- AbbVie Inc. is branching further into immuno-oncology through a deal with a young biotech, the latest move from the established company aimed at growing its presence in cancer drug development.
- Announced Tuesday, the agreement gives AbbVie the exclusive rights to as many as three oncolytic viral immunotherapies from Turnstone Biologics Inc. Included in that set is Turnstone's lead program, currently in Phase 1/2 testing, and two additional, research-stage candidates that have yet to be selected.
- Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. AbbVie shares opened at and fell less than 1% in early morning trading Tuesday.
AbbVie has been on a tear in the last couple years to flesh out its pipeline and portfolio with oncology drugs, with the $21 billion acquisition of Pharmacyclics LLC in 2015 coming as the first big step in that direction.
That deal gave AbbVie access to the blockbuster medicine Imbruvica (ibrutinib), which has since become the company's second most lucrative product. Imbruvica brought in $626 million for the West Coast drugmaker during the second quarter, a nearly 43% increase from the same period a year prior.
Smaller, follow-on deals with Argenx and CytomX helped to bolster AbbVie's oncology footing, and handed it an immuno-oncology asset in ARGX-115. But the June 2016 acquisition of Stemcentrx Inc. was another key milestone, as it gave AbbVie the advanced asset Rova-T (rovalpituzumab) plus an assortment of early-stage and preclinical drugs.
The Turnstone deal, on the other hand, will focus on oncolytic viral immunotherapies. These immunotherapies "take advantage of defective pathways in tumors to selectively replicate in and destroy cancer cells, while cancer vaccines create killer (CD8+) T cell immune responses against tumor antigens," according to an Oct. 10 statement from AbbVie.
"Turnstone Biologics is the first company to clinically develop a combined oncolytic virus and cancer vaccine, and we are very impressed by their work to-date," said Tom Hudson, vice president of oncology discovery and early development at AbbVie, in a statement.
Of the three therapies that will be a part of the licensing agreement, they all rest on Turnstone's Maraba virus platform. AbbVie plans to use that platform to investigate treatments for multiple solid tumor types.
"Leaving healthy cells unaffected, the Maraba platform directly attacks cancer cells and changes the tumor microenvironment to make the cancer susceptible to the targeted vaccine-induced immune response," AbbVie said. "The result is a powerful therapy that harnesses the individual's own immune system to attack and kill tumors locally and at metastatic sites throughout the body, generating durable memory and preventing recurrence."
While financial details of the Turnstone deal weren't disclosed, AbbVie has shown a willingness to shell out big bucks for cancer therapies. That deal with Stemcentrx, for instance, was valued at $5.8 billion at the time, not including the up to $4 billion in potential milestones at stake.