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Biotechs Partner on Antibody, T-Cell Cancer Therapies in $100M Deal

T-cells illustration

T-cells (NASA.gov)

6 August 2018. Two biotechnology companies with complementary technologies plan to create treatments for cancer that harness and modify cells from the immune system delivered with benign viruses. As part of their agreement, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Tarrytown, New York is taking a $100 million equity stake in bluebird bio inc. — the company spells its name in all lower-case — in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Regeneron develops engineered B- and T-cells, white blood cells in the immune system, as treatments for a range of diseases including cancer. The company’s technology genetically modifies the immune systems in mice to produce humanized synthetic antibodies from B-cells. Regeneron says its process results in synthetic antibodies that bind to treatment targets, yet avoid the risk of immune system rejection. Its T-cell therapies are also derived from genetically engineered mice, but are designed as T-cell receptor proteins that recognize and bind to specific antigens, such as those found on tumors.

The bluebird bio process creates therapies for cancer and genetic disorders using healthy genes delivered with benign viruses called lentiviruses. The company’s cancer technology takes a patient’s own blood-producing stem cells from bone marrow and cultures them outside the body. The culturing process creates replacement genes for the mutated stem cells causing the disease. The replacement genes modify the chimeric antigen receptors or CARs on the individual’s T-cells, with these CAR T-cells then binding to targeted proteins and destroying cancer cells.

The 5-year agreement calls for Regeneron and bluebird to collaborate on 6 initial cell therapy targets, with additional targets possible. The selected but undisclosed therapies are expected to expand the types of tumors addressed by T-cell treatments, including antigen targets both inside and outside tumor cells.

The companies will equally share the preclinical costs of developing the treatments to the point of investigational new drug applications to FDA that request clearance to begin clinical trials. Once an application is submitted to FDA, Regeneron has an option to co-develop and commercialize certain therapies, with costs and profits shared equally with bluebird. If Regeneron decides not to develop a treatment candidate produced by the collaboration, the company will be eligible for milestone and royalty payments should bluebird develop the treatment into a product.

Also under the deal, Regeneron is making a $100 million investment in bluebird bio, purchasing bluebird’s common stock at $238.10 a share, which represents a 59 percent premium over the stock’s closing price on Friday, 3 August  at $150.00 a share. Regeneron is applying the $37 million premium to its share of development costs for the collaboration’s 6 initial therapies.

“With Regeneron’s proven targeting technologies,” says Philip Gregory, bluebird’s chief scientist in a joint statement, “in combination with our deep expertise in cell biology and vector technology, as well as clinical experience with leading CAR T-cell drug products, we hope to rapidly advance novel cellular therapies with the potential to transform the lives of people with cancer.”

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