- Celgene has signed a five-year immuno-oncology collaboration deal with two-year-old biotech Dragonfly Therapeutics, snagging exclusive options for rights to as many as four product candidates based on the startup's natural killer (NK) cell-based technology platform, TriNKET.
- Dragonfly will receive $33 million upfront, with unspecific milestones and future royalties for the candidates, which are aimed at hematological malignancies like acute myeloid leukemia and multiple myeloma.
- This is Dragonfly's first major deal since its founding in 2015 by Tyler Jacks of the Koch Institute at MIT, investor and entrepreneur Bill Haney, and NK cell biology expert David Raulet.
Celgene has made plans to expand its R&D investment in 2017, with an aim to expand upon its current reliance on blockbuster cancer drug Revlimid (lenalidomide) which accounts for almost two thirds of the company's net revenues.
Celgene has a number of drugs in development for hematological malignancies, including multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, acute myeloid leukemia, a variety of lymphomas, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. While the company projects that 14 of its pipeline drugs could bring in at least $1 billion in revenue, this deal with Dragonfly should bolster the earlier end of its pipeline.
Partnering with Dragonfly makes sense for Celgene, which already participated in an investment round for Dragonfly back in May. Celgene is also well-known for its active approach to partnering, inking early-stage collaborations with dozens of biotechs.
As well demonstrated in the emergence of checkpoint inhibitors, cancer cells are adept at hiding from the immune system. Dragonfly's technology creates a bridge, linking to proteins expressed on both cancer and NK cells — hopefully triggering NK cells to both kill the cancer cell and notify other immune cells about its presence.
Innate Pharma is also taking the NK approach, but from a different direction, and is developing lirilumab in acute myeloid leukemia. A recent study of the drug, which aims to activate natural killer cells to attack tumor cells by blocking interactions between killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors and their ligands, crashed out of a recent Phase 2 study when it failed to beat placebo.
And NantKwest, brain child of biotech luminary Patrick Soon-Shiong, is also advancing a range of NK platforms.