ASCO star, backed by billionaires, goes to Astellas in $1.4 billion buyout

Among the galaxy of oncology players that showed up at ASCO last summer to boast about their progress or lay claims to bright futures, few delivered the real goods as well as overnight star Ganymed.

The little-known German biotech grabbed the spotlight at the big conference with IMAB362, which wrapped a mid-stage study showing it “can significantly extend median survival when added to standard chemotherapy—13.2 months vs. 8.4 months—for patients with advanced gastric cancer.” This therapy is the first drug that targets a protein called claudin18.2, and subjects in the 161-patient study with the highest levels of claudin18.2 had a significantly longer median overall survival rate: 16.7 months.

Today, it all belongs to Astellas, including the Phase III pivotal study ahead. The Japanese pharma has swooped in to buy Ganymed for $460 million in cash and $937 million in milestones. The Mainz, Germany-based company will now become a subsidiary of Astellas, which is looking to build on its blockbuster success with the prostate cancer drug Xtandi, now partnered with Pfizer after its $14 billion buyout of Medivation.

Much of that windfall from Astellas will go to identical twin billionaires Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann, who founded the big generics company Hexal and sold it to Novartis ($NVS) for $7.5 billion. The brothers — who have backed a string of German biotechs with their money — helped Ganymed raise $60 million (€45 million) in a venture round back in 2013, bringing the total at the time to $148 million. MIG Fond and FCPB Gany GmbH also put up part of the venture funds.

Andreas and Thomas Strüngmann (via TegernseerStimme)

Andreas and Thomas Strüngmann (via TegernseerStimme)

Oncology has attracted billions of dollars of new investments over the last few years, often triggering a scramble among prominent players to  hit the same target. But Ganymed has managed to emerge in this field as a clear leader.

Claudin18.2 is a member of a family of proteins that plays a crucial role in creating “tight junctions” in cells, governing paracellular barriers. In tumors, though, these tight junctions become disrupted, scrambling their cellular role. And the same target can be found in other tumors, including pancreatic, lung, esophageal and ovarian.

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