- Bristol Myers Squibb has broadened an existing partnership with German immunotherapy developer Immatics, announcing on Tuesday morning plans to acquire rights to a cancer drug nearing clinical testing.
- Immatics will receive $150 million up front in exchange for access to its treatment, which is known as IMA401 and should begin human testing against multiple solid tumor types next year. The biotech could get another $770 million in downstream payments, as well as sales royalties, if the program progresses. It also has an option to split U.S. rights.
- The acquisition builds on a 2019 partnership originally forged between Immatics and Celgene, an alliance the big biotech struck months before completing its sale to Bristol Myers. That deal was centered on cell-based cancer treatments, however, while the new agreement revolves around a potentially more convenient alternative.
Bristol Myers' acquisition of Celgene immediately made the big pharma a top player in the development of cancer cell therapies. Since the deal closed, Bristol Myers has won approvals of the lymphoma treatment Breyanzi and the multiple myeloma drug Abecma, each of which have proven powerfully effective in driving cancers into remission for people with few other options. Additional programs are in the works as well.
But both treatments still have limitations known to cell therapies. They're logistically complex, expensive, and available only at a limited number of medical centers. CAR-T treatments, as they're known, are still only approved for a few blood cancers.
Bispecific antibodies, which simultaneously latch onto targets on immune cells and tumors, have increasingly drawn interest as potentially more accessible alternatives to CAR-T treatments. A number of them are in advanced testing for various blood cancers, and while some have faltered, others have shown the ability to deliver efficacy in the ballpark of CAR-T.
This past weekend, for example, Roche reported that 80% of lymphoma patients in a trial of its bispecific antibody drug mosunetuzumab responded to treatment, and 60% of them had no trace of cancer — comparable results to what was observed in clinical testing of the Gilead cell therapy Yescarta.
Bristol is hoping to see similar types of results in solid tumors by broadening its deal with Immatics. The Immatics drug is a biologic similar to a dual-targeting antibody. One region binds to a molecule associated with the cancer proteins MAGE 4 and 8, which are found on tumors of the lung, bladder, skin and other organs. Another part draws in and activates immune cells.
Bristol believes the drug could have "cell therapy-like efficacy in an off-the-shelf platform," said Teri Foy, a senior vice president of research and early development within Bristol's immunotherapy and cell therapy division, in a statement.
Clinical testing should begin in the first half of 2022 in Europe and enroll patients with multiple different solid tumor types.
Immatics, meanwhile, has been working with Celgene since 2019 on T-cell receptor therapy, a similar approach to CAR-T. The German biotech also has partnerships with GlaxoSmithKline and Genmab.