Novartis jumps into bi-specific antibody space with $150 million Xencor deal
- Novartis will partner with California-based biotech Xencor to develop two bispecific antibodies for the treatment fo acute myeloid leukemia and B-cell malignancies, the companies said on Tuesday.
- Under the terms of the deal, Novartis pays Xencor $150 million upfront to gain access to the two molecules, along with development rights for four other bispecific antibodies. Novartis will also be able to use Xencor's antibody technology to develop ten additional programs for its own portfolio.
- Xencor expects to begin clinical development on the first two molecules by the end of 2016, and will share costs equally with Novartis.
Novartis is investing heavily in building out its immuno-oncology portfolio, particularly as it faces declining revenue from its blockbuster blood cancer drug Gleevec, which lost market exclusivity in the U.S. earlier this year.
Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb have jumped out to an early lead in the space with their respective checkpoint inhibitors, Keytruda and Opdivo. But Novartis has high aspirations as well, recently adding James Bradner to head up the company's Institutes for BioMedical Research as it works to develop its lead CAR-T program and oncology portfolio.
In announcing its deal with Xencor, Novartis emphasized it broad immuno-oncoloy pipeline, framing the partnership as another step in its efforts.
Unlike monoclonal antibodies, bi-sepcifics bind to two different antigens at once, allowing one antibody to connect tumor surface proteins with cancer-killing immune cells.
Novartis and Xencor will jointly develop XmAb14045 for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia and XmAb13676 for B-cell malignancies, splitting development costs equally. Xencor retains commercialization rights to both molecules in the U.S., while Novartis will have rights outside of the U.S.
Both of the molecules target the cytotoxic T-cell binding domain (CD3), as well as a tumor antigen binding domain.
In addition to the $150 million paid by Novartis upfront, Xencor could also receive an unspecified amount of clinical, regulatory, and sales milestones for successful programs.
"This collaboration is part of our strategy to join forces with technology innovators who can help us rapidly advance new medicines to the clinic," said Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.
Importantly for Novartis' development work, the company also gets rights to develop and commercialize four additional bispecific programs, one of which Xencor can opt-in on to retain U.S. rights.
Follow Ned Pagliarulo on Twitter