- Roche will pay more than $80 million upfront to snag a preclinical candidate focused on regulatory T cells, a trending research area in immuno-oncology that the Swiss pharmaceutical giant hopes will complement its blockbuster drug Tecentriq in treating cancer.
- Tusk Therapeutics announced Friday it had inked the takeover deal on Sept. 27, handing over its experimental antibody to Roche for 70 million euros with potential milestone payments worth up to an additional 585 million euros ($677 million). The private Stevenage, U.K.-based firm will spinout into a new, independent company called Black Belt Therapeutics to develop its other preclinical asset.
- Roche called its newly acquired candidate "the most advanced asset" to test whether an antibody can deplete harmful regulatory T cells that normally suppress immune reactions against cancer cells, as a company spokesperson described in an email to BioPharma Dive.
Tusk had two preclinical regulatory T cell, or Tregs, treatments in development, respectively targeting two specific proteins: CD25 and CD38. Roche will take CD25 in this deal, while Tusk spins out into Black Belt with CD38.
Tusk stated it expects clinical trials with cancer patients to start by the end of 2019.
"Tusk's antibody has been designed to deplete these harmful Tregs, while not interfering with other immune cells acting against the tumor," a Roche spokesperson stated in an email to BioPharma Dive. "The importance has not been evaluated in humans yet. However, we believe that this is the most advanced asset to test this hypothesis."
Roche highlighted Tecentriq (atezolizumab) as a potential combination partner, but its spokesperson also noted "other combinations may be evaluated in the future."
Tusk CEO Luc Dochez highlighted the anti-CD25 antibody earlier this year in an April presentation at the American Association for Cancer Research.
"Unlike existing CD25 antibodies, our antibody has the ability to deplete Tregs without inhibiting effector cell responses," he said at the time. "Based on the promising pre-clinical data, we believe that our anti-CD25 candidates will be an ideal combination partner for existing standard of care and immuno-oncology treatments."
Roche is far from the first pharma to buy into the space, as it's been a trendy area in immuno-oncology over the past year. Celgene, Novartis and Eli Lilly all reached licensing deals in 2017 for various Tregs-related assets.
In July 2018, the gene therapy biotech Sangamo bought TxCell for $84 million in a deal expected to close by the end of this year.
Tusk was founded in 2014 and based at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst in the U.K, a geographic biotech hotspot that also features the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, an accelerator that gained several new manufacturing licenses earlier this month.