Amgen, Xencor to develop cancer immunotherapy, inflammation therapies under potential $1.7-billion deal

Amgen entered into a research and license agreement with Xencor potentially worth up to $1.7 billion to use the latter's XmAb bispecific technology platform to develop therapeutics in the areas of cancer immunotherapy and inflammation, the companies reported Wednesday. Under the agreed terms, Xencor will receive a $45-million upfront payment and up to $1.7 billion in clinical, regulatory and sales milestone payments in total for six programmes.

The companies noted that the collaboration includes molecular engineering by Xencor and the preclinical development of bispecific molecules for five programmes proposed by Amgen, as well as Xencor's preclinical bispecific T-cell engager programme directed at CD38 and CD3 for multiple myeloma. The agreement calls for Amgen to be fully responsible for preclinical and clinical development, in addition to global marketing. Xencor is eligible for mid- to high-single-digit royalties for candidates directed against Amgen's targets, and high-single- to low-double-digit royalties for Xencor's CD38 bispecific T-cell engager.

Commenting on the deal, Amgen R&D chief Sean Harper stated "we are especially excited about the T-cell-engaging bispecific antibody directed against CD38, which complements Amgen's BiTE platform, while growing our haematology and oncology portfolio that includes two bispecific T-cell engager antibodies, Blincyto (blinatumomab) and AMG 330, as well as Kyprolis (carfilzomib) for relapsed multiple myeloma."

Xencor CEO Bassil Dahiyat suggested the main difference between the bispecific technologies developed by his company and those of Amgen is that Xencor's allows for a longer half-life, potentially permitting weekly or biweekly dosing. "The earlier bispecifics were much shorter acting, maybe an hour and a half…so that's a dramatic difference," he said.

Amgen's agreement with Xencor comes as the company has sought to diversify its portfolio to offset generic competition. Earlier this month, a US appeals court again denied Amgen's request to block the launch of Novartis' Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), a biosimilar version of its neutropaenia drug Neupogen (filgrastim). Separately on Wednesday, Amgen reached an agreement to acquire privately held drugmaker Dezima Pharma in a deal valued at as much as $1.55 billion.

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