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Biotechs Collaborate on Immunotherapies in $1.2B Deal

Investment graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

9 February 2018. Two biotechnology companies developing cancer therapies harnessing the immune system are partnering on new treatments for solid tumor and blood-related cancers. The licensing and research deal with Seattle Genetics Inc. in Bothell, Washington could bring Pieris Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Boston as much as $1.2 billion if all aspects of the agreement go into effect.

Both Pieris Pharmaceuticals and Seattle Genetics develop therapies with engineered biologics. Pieris, founded in 2010, designs synthetic proteins with a platform the company calls anticalins, low molecular weight proteins similar to lipocalin proteins found in blood plasma. The company says its anticalins retain the basic natural structure of lipocalins, but add an addressable pocket that provides a tight binding site for therapeutic agents. In addition, says Pieris, anticalin therapies act against a wide variety of treatment targets, provide a durable delivery, and are shown to be safe for patients.

Pieris says it has a library of more than 100 million anticalin proteins, which can be further configured to meet specific therapeutic needs. In 2017, the company entered into licensing agreements with the pharmaceutical company Servier for cancer immunotherapies and AstraZeneca for biologics to treat asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Seattle Genetics creates mainly cancer therapies, with its main technology using antibody-drug conjugates. These therapies combine the precise targeting of engineered antibodies with cancer-killing agents like chemotherapies. Because of their more exact targeting, they concentrate the cell-killing effects on cancer cells, sparing healthy cells and tissue, unlike systemic chemotherapy drugs. Like Pieris, Seattle Genetics has a large library of antibody-drug conjugates with engineered antibodies addressing a wide range of cancer targets.

The collaboration plans to produce cancer treatments that combine features of the two respective technologies, resulting in antibody-anticalin fusion proteins, according to the companies. These bi-specific proteins, say Pieris and Seattle Genetics, will be engineered to bind highly-targeted antibodies to anticalin proteins, and in the process overcome some limitations of current cancer immunotherapies. Antibody-anticalin proteins, say the companies, will be designed to activate the patient’s immune system cells to attack tumors and the supporting tumor microenvironment.

Under the agreement, Seattle Genetics is paying Pieris an initial fee of $30 million, with the two companies developing an unspecified number of antibody-anticalin fusion protein candidates. Seattle Genetics will then have the option of choosing up to 3 of these candidates for further development. Seattle Genetics will fund and develop 2 of these candidates, with Pieris retaining the option to co-develop and commercialize the third therapy. Pieris will be eligible under the deal for milestone payments of up to $1.2 billion, as well as royalties on sales of products developed under the collaboration.

“This partnership,” says Dennis Benjamin, vice-president for research at Seattle Genetics in a joint statement, “leverages our cancer targets and tumor-specific antibodies to explore multiple novel bi-specific combinations, with the goal of developing targeted therapies that improve outcomes for people with cancer.”

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