Jounce Therapeutics announced Tuesday that it entered into a global strategic collaboration with Celgene focused on developing and commercialising immuno-oncology treatments. The deal, which is potentially worth as much as $2.6 billion, includes options on Jounce's lead candidate JTX-2011 and up to four early-stage programmes from a pool of B cell, T regulatory cell and tumour-associated macrophage targets emerging from Jounce's translational science platform. The partnership also includes an option to equally share a checkpoint immuno-oncology programme.
Celgene chief scientific officer Robert Hershberg stated that Jounce's immuno-oncology platform and pipeline "focus on the development of novel cancer therapies matched to patient populations most likely to respond." He added that the partnership "allows both companies to leverage broad capabilities in immuno-oncology to bring forward a new generation of product candidates for cancer patients."
Under the agreed terms, Jounce will receive an upfront payment of $225 million, a $36-million equity investment and up to an additional $2.3 billion in future milestone payments across all programmes included in the collaboration. Jounce noted that Celgene may opt-in at defined development stages across the programmes. Specifically, if JTX-2011 wins regulatory approval, Celgene would be eligible to receive 40 percent of profits generated in the US.
Jounce explained that the experimental monoclonal antibody targets inducible T-cell co-stimulator (ICOS), a T-cell surface protein that is believed to stimulate an immune response against cancer. The company said JTX-2011, which it believes may be particularly useful for patients with cancers of the lung, head or neck, is being developed to treat solid tumours both as a monotherapy and in combination with other treatments, with clinical testing expected to start later this year.
Meanwhile, the collaboration also calls for Celgene to receive 75 percent of US profits derived from the first additional immune-oncology programme and an equal share on the remaining three others. After opting in, the companies will split the developmental costs in line with the profit-sharing agreement. Further, Celgene will be granted exclusive rights to each of the programmes outside the US, with Jounce eligible for royalties on any of those sales. Celgene and Jounce will also equally share profits globally for the checkpoint programme.
Jounce CEO Richard Murray noted that "when we look at immuno-oncology in the last five years, it's had a huge impact on patients…but it's still a minority of patients that are getting the full benefit." Murray added that his company's "approach is not to repurpose immunology drugs into oncology, but rather to understand human tumours and the immune system cells within these tumours…[so as] to bring the right immunotherapy to the right patient population."
The collaboration follows Celgene's 2015 agreement to acquire Receptos for $7.2 billion, in a move aimed at boosting its inflammation and immunology portfolio. Celgene also signed a 10-year deal with Juno Therapeutics last year to develop treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases, with an initial focus on CAR-T and T-cell receptor technologies.
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