- BioNTech is expanding its cancer medicine pipeline in a new direction, announcing Monday a licensing deal with the China-based Duality Biologics that will give it access to two experimental antibody-drug conjugates, or ADCs.
- Per the deal, BioNTech will pay Duality $170 million upfront in return for rights to develop and commercialize the two drugs globally outside of China, Hong Kong and Macau. Duality could receive up to $1.5 billion more if certain milestones are met.
- “Over the last years, the ADC field has made significant progress, overcoming several limitations and demonstrating its potential as a broadly applicable precision medicine drug class that might be an alternative to standard chemotherapy,” said Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO, in a statement.
Armed with cash earned from sales of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer, BioNTech has been investing in cancer drug research and development — its primary focus prior to the pandemic.
While BioNTech specializes in messenger RNA, it also has built a pipeline of antibody drugs, too. Most recently, it spent $200 million for rights to a cancer immunotherapy from the biotechnology company OncoC4.
The deal with Duality adds ADCs to BioNTech’s pipeline, taking the company into a fast-growing field. ADCs pair a cell-killing toxin with a targeting compound designed to home in on tumors while sparing healthy tissue. The complex drugs have a long history, but pharmaceutical companies’ interest in them has grown over the past several years, buoyed by clinical trial successes.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved eight ADCs since 2019, including AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s breast cancer drug Enhertu. Dramatic study results for that treatment led the agency to expand its approval last summer to include people whose tumors have low levels of a protein called HER2.
Still, while ADCs have shown promise, they can cause severe side effects as well.
Duality’s lead candidate, dubbed DB-1303, also targets the HER2 protein, which is overexpressed in breast cancer and a number of other tumors. The drug is currently in a Phase 2 clinical trial for advanced solid tumors that are positive for HER2.
The other candidate BioNTech gains, DB13-11, is in preclinical development for “multiple cancer types.”
BioNTech isn’t the first Western drugmaker to turn to China-based biotechs for ADC technology. In 2021, Seagen — a pioneer in the field — struck a similarly sized deal with the Yantai, China-based biotech RemeGen to gain access to a HER2-targeting ADC.