Immuno-oncology is one of the hottest topics in biopharma today with a market that is expected to swell to $34 billion by 2024. Last year alone, immuno-oncology drugs had combined sales of about $2.5 billion. A single drug alone, Yervoy by Bristol-Myers Squibb, produced more than $1 billion in revenue worldwide, and Opdivo, which is sold by the same company, was a close second at $942 million. By June, Opdivo has already sold more than all of that in 2016. However, Yervoy has slid a bit this year due to competition from Keytruda, which is offered by Merck & Co. Obviously, this industry is ripe for competition, and in order to get a leg up on the competition, collaborations are becoming more prevalent.
While collaborations can cost biopharma giants billions of dollars, the potential for revenue is worth the gamble, as more boutique biotech firms seek to develop the newest cancer immunotherapies. The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development reported in early 2016 that more than 130 biotech and 20 pharmaceutical companies were concentrating on immunotherapy, but this number has likely already increased. The report also found 58 collaborations on the books, a massive increase from the 6 reported collaboration in 2013. Following is a look at some of the top collaborations that people should examine in the coming years.
- Merck & Co. and Ablynx: This collaboration, valued at $6.4 billion, was announced about a year ago. Since the partnership began, Ablynx announced that it had achieved preclinical proof of concept for a Nanobody program developed as part of the collaboration, which earned a significant milestone payment. The collaboration aims to look at various checkpoint modulators, and up to 12 cancer drugs may be developed using the Nanobodies, which are single-domain antibody fragments. Merck oversees the clinical development and commercialization of products resulting from the research.
- Celgene and Juno Therapeutics: Announced only very recently, this collaboration is valued at up to $2.6 billion, with $225 million upfront and an equity investment of $36 million. The partnership offers Celgene the right to Juno’s top drug, JTX-2011, a monoclonal antibody that should be in clinical trials before the end of 2016. In addition, Celgene has options for several other early-stage programs including regulatory T-cell, B-cell, and tumor-associated macrophage products that are under development by the Jounce Translational Science Platform. The collaboration features a term of four years with the option to extend for an additional three years.
- Bristol-Myers Squibb and Five Prime Therapeutics: This collaboration, which is valued at up to $1.74 billion with $350 million upfront, involves the co-development and commercialization of the colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor antibody program, which includes cabiralizumab, a Phase II immunology compound. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the compound an Orphan Drug Designation earlier this year. In addition, Five Prime retained an option to conduct future studies to approve cabiralizumab for use in pigmented villondular synovitis and for use in collaboration with other products in its pipeline.
- Sanofi and Regeneron: This partnership, which is valued at $2.17 billion, involves the joint development of a programmed cell death protein inhibitor known as REGN2810. The product was in Phase I studies when the collaboration began, with clinical trials commencing this year. New clinical candidates are being developed based on preclinical data. Each partner has pledged $325 million toward the development of REGN2810, which entered a major clinical study for its potential in treating advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma earlier this year.
- Pfizer and Cellectis: These two companies have been working together since 2014 to develop chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies. The resulting products are based on Cellectis’ existing technology, which allows the therapy to be directed at specific targets. As a result of the collaboration, Pfizer maintains the sole right to develop and commercialize the therapies, which now have a total of 15 targets. The two companies are now collaborating on the preclinical development of four of 12 additional targets that Cellectis selected. The first patient was dosed in a Phase I study of UCART19 earlier this year. The study looks at the drug’s potential for treating pediatric acute B lymphoblastic leukemia. UCART19, which targets CD19-expressing blood malignances, was gene edited with patented Cellectis technology.
- Roche and Blueprint Medicines: One of the most recent collaborations on this list, Roche and Blueprint Medicines will together discover and develop several small-molecule therapeutics that target certain kinases that are important in cancer immunotherapy. According to the terms of the partnership, up to five therapies may be developed and commercialized. The five could include products designed to complement existing Roche offerings. Roche maintains an option for when Phase I proof of concept is achieved. In August, Blueprint announced that three targets have already been identified, two of which are already in development.
- Eli Lilly and Innovent Biologics: These two companies are spearheading the development of up to three anti-programmed cell death-1-based bispecific antibodies over the course of a decade. Lilly has the right to commercialize any products outside of China, while Innovent maintains the right to sell the treatments in China. The alliance actually existed prior to this new collaboration, which added an addition $456 million to the existing agreement. The total deal is now worth more than $1 billion, with Innovent receiving $56 million upfront.