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Bayer, Compugen to Partner on Cancer Immunotherapies

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The pharmaceutical company Bayer HealthCare in Berlin and drug discovery company Compugen Ltd in Tel Aviv, Israel agreed on a development and licensing deal for two potential cancer therapies discovered by Compugen that harness the body’s immune system. The deal has a potential value to Compugen of at least $540 million.

Compugen uses computational biology, including algorithms and machine learning, as a more structuted and systematic way to to identify potential therapeutics in the fields of immunology and oncology, than traditional trial-and-error lab methods. Last year, Compugen established a subsidiary in California to develop monoclonal antibody therapeutic candidates against targets identified by the company.

Immunotherapy aims to counteract the effects of cancers to suppress an immune response to fight tumors, thus protecting the growth of those tumors. Compugen says it discovered two regulator proteins with the potential to affect suppression of the immune system. The company says as well it is developing therapeutic antibodies designed to block these regulators from suppressing their immune-system targets. The joint announcement did not name the regulator proteins, but Compugen said in 2010 it discovered nine new members of the B7/CD28 protein family with high therapeutic potential for transplants, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.

Under the deal, Bayer HealthCare and Compugen will jointly conduct preclinical research on the antibodies, after which Bayer will have full rights for development and worldwide commercialization. Bayer agreed to make an initial $10 million to Compugen, with another $30 million for preclinical development. Compugen will also be eligible for at least another $500 million in potential milestone payments for the antibodies, as well as royalties on future net sales of products developed under the partnership.

Bayer already has several drugs and biologics approved or in development as cancer therapies. Regorafenib, marketed as Stivarga, is an enzyme inhibitor that acts on signaling pathways responsible for tumor growth, which was approved in the U.S. and is under review in Europe and Japan to treat metastatic colorectal cancer. The company has also submitted for review radium-223 dichloride, marketed as Alpharadin, as a therapy for bone tumors that spread from prostate cancer.

In addition, Bayer is collaborating with Onyx Pharmaceuticals in the U.S. to develop its drug sorafenib, marketed as Nexavar, to treat kidney and liver cancer. The drug attacks both the cancer cells and the vascular system supporting tumor growth.

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