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Pfizer's $1B cancer buy tops Q3 licensing deals; neurological interest undimmed


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Pfizer's $1B cancer buy tops Q3 licensing deals; neurological interest undimmed

Pfizer Inc.'s $1 billion deal for a cancer treatment and GlaxoSmithKline PLC's $700 million payment for two neurodegenerative disorder therapies were the largest up-front offerings of the licensing agreements signed in the third quarter.

Pfizer agreed to make a $650 million up-front payment and a $350 million equity investment in Arvinas Inc. as part of a July deal to jointly develop and commercialize the New Haven, Conn.-based company's experimental breast cancer drug ARV-471. (Scroll down for a list of deals and terms.)

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GSK and Alector will develop two therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Source: Stockvault

Arvinas remains bullish about the therapy's best-in-class potential when compared to other selective estrogen receptor degraders such as AstraZeneca PLC's Faslodex, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Alethia Young said in a Sept. 29 note. Drugs in this class combat cancer by blocking the effects of the hormone estrogen in the breast tissue.

GSK's $700 million up-front offering to Alector Inc. was the largest all-cash payment of the quarter, as part of a July deal to jointly commercialize the Californian biotech's antibodies, dubbed AL001 and AL101, for a range of neurodegenerative diseases. The drugs, for which U.K.-based GSK will have the exclusive license outside of the U.S., are designed to increase levels of the progranulin protein, a key regulator of immune activity in the brain.

The results of a phase 2 trial published later in July demonstrated that AL001 slowed cognitive decline. Still, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Charles Duncan suggested in an Aug. 31 note that a drug called DNL593, in preclinical development by South San Francisco, Calif.-based Denali Therapeutics Inc., could ultimately prove to be a more effective treatment for dementia.

Cancer drugs still dominate

Oncology held on as the most popular area for licensing deals, accounting for 18 of the 59 agreements covered by S&P Global Market Intelligence in the third quarter.

Adaptimmune Therapeutics PLC could prove to be the biggest beneficiary from the deals signed in the quarter, with the British biotech eligible for over $3 billion in milestone payments from Roche's Genentech unit as part of an agreement to research and develop "off-the-shelf" cell therapies for up to five cancer targets.

"Cell therapies for oncology that harness the body's immune system to target specific malignant cells have generated impressive results as well as excitement from the investor and medical community," Cowen analysts noted in a Sept. 29 report.

Seagen Inc.'s $200 million up-front payment to RemeGen Co. Ltd. to license the Chinese biotech's antibody-drug conjugate disitamab vedotin was a good move, RBC analyst Kennan MacKay said at the time. MacKay pointed to the drug's recent approval in China to treat gastric cancer as well as a breakthrough therapy designation in the U.S. While the field of anticancer drugs designed to target the HER2 protein is growing crowded, disitamab vedotin has the potential to differentiate itself as a treatment for patients who express low amounts of HER2, MacKay added.

Eli Lilly and Co. signed three deals in the three-month period, including $70 million in an up-front cash payment and equity investment in Kumquat Biosciences Inc. to develop and commercialize small molecules that stimulate tumor-specific immune responses.

Of the five licensing deals for urea cycle disorder-related drugs covered by Market Intelligence, Swiss pharmaceutical company Vifor Pharma AG's $55 million offer to Travere Therapeutics Inc. to license the rare kidney disorder drug sparsentan was the largest up-front payment.

Results of a phase 3 trial, published a month before the deal was signed, showed the drug was effective as a treatment for a chronic kidney disease called IgA nephropathy. While sparsentan was likely to enter the market first, a similar drug by Chinook Therapeutics Inc. could ultimately have a more attractive commercial profile, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Emma Nealon said at the time.

Neurological deal-making continues

The GSK-Alector agreement was one of seven neurological therapy deals covered by Market Intelligence, making it once again the second-most popular disease area even after dropping from nine deals in the second quarter.

Biogen Inc., which in June received the first-ever U.S. regulatory approval for a drug to treat Alzheimer's-related decline, continued its push into the neurological space with a $125 million up-front payment to license a potential multiple sclerosis therapy from China's InnoCare Pharma Ltd.

Roche Holding AG made two forays into the field, including using Shape Therapeutics Inc.'s RNA-editing technology to develop gene therapies for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and rare diseases in a deal with a potential total value of $3 billion.

"We are excited by the disruptive potential of Shape's RNA-editing approach based on nature's own mechanism for specific base editing," James Sabry, head of Roche Pharma Partnering, said in the August announcement. "This new collaboration is also perfectly aligned with our broader efforts across the Roche Group to unlock the full potential of gene therapy."

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant's gene therapy-focused Spark Therapeutics unit also secured a deal with NeuExCell Therapeutics Inc. to develop a treatment for a progressive brain disorder called Huntington's disease.

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