AbbVie $ABBV has decided to jump into clinical development work with a new immuno-oncology drug for its oncology pipeline.
Two years after the company committed $60 million in an upfront and near-term preclinical milestones to its partner argenx (Euronext Brussels: ARGX), researchers are coming back for the commercial rights to a therapy dubbed ARGX-115. And AbbVie — which has finished paying the full $20 million in early goal payments — is down for up to $625 million in milestones if it can make the drug work as hoped.
You may not recognize the target: glycoprotein A repetitions predominant, or GARP. GARP sits on the surface of regulatory T cells — Tregs — which has become a pipeline of its own as drug developers go all out in tracking the next-gen I/O drugs that they hope to add behind the first wave of checkpoint inhibitors. Tregs blunt an immune attack on cancer cells, so mastering them has become a big deal in biopharma.
Argenx got into the game in 2015, attracted to the lab work being done by Sophie Lucas at the de Duve Institute at the Catholic University in Belgium. Her team was looking at the role of GARP in producing TGF-ß, which applies the brakes to the immune system.
“The ability to modulate the body’s own immune system to fight cancer is one of the most promising scientific advancements over the past decade,” Anil Singhal, former early oncology research at AbbVie, said at the time. “We believe that the ARGX-115 program is a unique opportunity to explore the potential to block certain immune-suppressive pathways that allow cancers to grow.”
Singhal’s group is also supporting new research work at argenx that takes it all one step further, putting them in a position to lock up any new GARP-related molecules they find.
Tim van Hauwermeiren, the CEO at argenx, also is hanging on to co-promotion rights in Europe.
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