Astellas bolsters immuno-oncology pipeline with acquisition of Xyphos for up to $665 million

Astellas has expanded its immuno-oncology business with the purchase of Xyphos Biosciences, gaining the latter's ACCEL technology platform to accelerate the development of next-generation cancer immunotherapies, the companies announced. In addition to a $120-million payment made upon closing, as well as potential future milestones, the deal will provide a total transaction value of $665 million.

"Combining this technology with our capabilities in cell therapy that we have been working on so far, we can create next-generation high-function cells and maximise the value of our technology," commented Kenji Yasukawa, president of Astellas. The purchase marks the second acquisition for the Japanese drugmaker in December, following its buyout of gene therapy company Audentes Therapeutics earlier in the month for $3 billion.

Xyphos CEO James Knighton remarked that "Astellas' commitment to immuno-oncology makes them an ideal partner to advance our proprietary NKG2D-based NK-cell and T-cell platform to the next stage of clinical exploration." 

Xyphos' synthetic biology platform is designed to direct cells of the immune system to target single or multiple tumour antigens while controlling immune cell proliferation and endurance. The company said its proprietary molecules can be delivered to natural immune cells or to engineered chimaeric antigen receptor (CAR) cells to generate immunotherapies for oncology. Xyphos' first CAR T-cell product candidate is in preclinical development, but is expected to advance to clinical testing in 2021.

According to the companies, Xyphos' CAR technology is based on a modification that renders the NKG2D natural human receptor inert. Moreover, several natural ligands of NKG2D have been modified to bind exclusively to the otherwise inert NKG2D receptor, while various functional molecules, such as antibodies that recognise specific tumour antigens, are attached to the modified ligand. "The CAR cells can be directed by the ligand-bound antibody to seek, become activated and [attack] a targeted cancer cell," the companies said.

Meanwhile, Astellas anticipates that the impact of the transaction on its financial results for the fiscal year ending March 31 "will be limited."

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