Scoop: Celgene targets a cure for myeloma/lymphoma with $600M EngMab buyout

Celgene Executive Chairman Bob Hugin

Celgene Executive Chairman Bob Hugin

Celgene has completed a deal to acquire the Swiss biotech EngMab for $600 million, adding a new BCMA-targeting multiple myeloma program to the pipeline, Endpoints News has learned. And it’s putting the new tech to work with its ongoing efforts on CAR-T and CD-3 antibodies with an eye on finding a cure for myeloma and lymphoma.

A Celgene spokesperson confirmed the deal to me in a statement Friday morning, saying that “we are acquiring Engmab for $600 million.”

“B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) is highly and selectively expressed on the surface of malignant plasma cells in MM and target of high value for immune based therapies such as re-engineered autologous T-CAR-T and the re-direction of CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes via anti-CD3 bi-specific antibodies,” he said. Celgene added:

Through this acquisition, Celgene is now uniquely positioned to pursue BCMA development opportunities using both CAR-T and CD-3- redirected killing platforms. Both approaches and assets provide the opportunity for best in class assets.

We see both this and the Bluebird BCMA platform as highly complementary with the potential to be curative.  In addition to mono-therapy in Myeloma patients, both platforms provide the opportunity for rational combination therapies with CELMods and Checkpoint inhibitors in order to further improve treatment efficacy, as well as clinical development in other BCMA expressing B-cell malignancies such as lymphoma.

B-cell maturation antigen, a target commonly expressed on multiple myeloma cells, is a hot focus at Celgene. The big biotech restructured its deal with bluebird bio $blue last year to go after BCMA.

Jefferies’ Brian Abrahams highlighted signs of a pending deal a couple of weeks ago, noting that EngMab has been working on several T cell-recruiting antibodies that zero in on BCMA.

According to EngMab’s web site, the biotech has been laboring on T-cell bispecific antibodies, which are designed to bring immune cells into contact with a target on cancer cells, a forcible head butt that should destroy the cancer cell. And its investigators showed up at ASH late last year to talk up their work on multiple myeloma.

Celgene is the leader in the multiple myeloma market, dominating the field with Revlimid and Pomalyst while J&J and Bristol-Myers Squibb have jumped in with Darzalex and Empliciti. And it has good reason to go after BCMA, a target that is present at an estimated 60% to 70% of all multiple myeloma cases.

This is the latest in a long string of high-profile M&A and licensing deals for Celgene, which has been investing heavily in its pipeline under executive chairman Bob Hugin. Hugin will likely find himself back in the spotlight today, as analysts wonder whether the company is paying too much for its programs. But Hugin has always said that there’s no real way to say if you’ve paid too much or too little. The drugs that work are always acquired for a small price. The ones that don’t work are always too expensive.

Shareholders seem to be loving it today, bidding up Celgene’s shares by 2% in the early afternoon.

Celgene is far from alone in the field. In a note out this morning, Abrahams cites the bluebird program along with an effort by the NCI, both in the clinic. “GSK has a BCMA-targeted ADC (GSK2857916) and AMGN has a bispecific (AMG420) also in ph.I trials,” the analyst adds. “JUNO and the California Institute of Biomedical Research also apparently have (a) preclinical BCMA program.”

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