- Celgene paid $75 million to Germany-based Immatics for rights to up to three immunotherapy programs that redirect immune cells against tumors.
- The deal suggests Bristol-Myers Squibb' pending takeout hasn't cooled Celgene's enthusiasm for using re-engineered immune cells against cancer. The big biotech spent $9 billion last year to buy Juno for its CAR-T technology.
- Privately held Immatics, meanwhile, last raised money in 2017, so the Celgene cash infusion will be welcome as it seeks to advance the rest of its pipeline.
The approval of two CAR-T agents, Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) from Novartis and Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) from Gilead Sciences, and their subsequent performance may have prompted a re-evaluation of the commercial promise of these agents.
However, innovation in this space continues as biopharma companies seek to overcome clinical complexity and payer resistance.
Celgene already invested heavily in the field, having brought in Juno Therapeutics for its CAR-T assets. The Immatics deal, if the option is eventually executed, would add up to three projects to that immuno-oncology pipeline — all developed from the German company's technology for identifying peptides uniquely expressed by tumor cells and engineering T cells that can target them.
Immatics' technology has the potential to develop "off-the-shelf" allogeneic T cells and bispecific monoclonal antibodies, a simpler alternative to Juno's CAR-Ts like JCAR017. Such autologous CAR-Ts are developed from patients' own immune cells, requiring blood to be drawn to filter the cells before they are expanded, re-engineered and then re-introduced into the patients' bodies.
Under the terms of the deal, Immatics will be financially responsible for development and validation of the programs until lead candidates are identified, at which point Celgene can opt-in and assume development. Immatics would be eligible for up to $505 million in option and milestone payments for each licensed product.
It's the second deal in two days for companies active in T-cell technologies. Adaptimmune signed with Japanese biotech Noile-Immune for its technology to target the proteins IL-17 and CCL19. Noile-Immune would be eligible for up to $312 million plus sales royalties under that license.
For Immatics, the $75 million upfront will ease the pressure to go back to its venture capital investors for more money or seek an initial public offering. Its last fundraising was a $58 million series E round in 2017.
Among the company's backers are Amgen, German-based venture fund Wellington Partners, and Dievini Hopp, a venture capital group that frequently invests in German biotechs.