The new Cinderella story: Cancer powerhouse Genentech lines up an NK alliance with Affimed loaded with billions in biobucks

Eight years after little Affimed was founded in Germany, it’s become the new Cinderella of the global biotech scene, with Genentech playing the role of Prince Charming — offering the keys to the kingdom and a glass R&D slipper that seems to fit just right.

The little German biotech Affimed $AFMD has snagged a $96 million upfront and near-term financing opportunities to partner with the powerhouse cancer team at Genentech on its natural killer cell platform for cancer. And the bargaining table is weighed down with up to $5 billion in biobucks in exchange for a mother lode of milestones and royalties.

In return Affimed — which we last saw getting whupped up on last summer —  can now count itself as a close partner with one of those transformative alliances that most biotechs can only dream about.

Adi Hoess

Genentech “recognized that we have a new science based around innate immune cells,” Affimed CEO Adi Hoess tells me. While Affirmed has a staff of 60 now, focused on natural killer cells and T cell engagers, Hoess and his executive team say that the new deal will be concentrating on NK cells, where Genentech has the most to gain.

This deal combines Genentech’s deep experience with tumor biology with the biotech’s own know-how in activating NK cells while using a platform tech that the CEO describes as a “simplified engineering system” that can create new therapeutics without the need for adding a lot of staff. The platform specializes in “tetravalent, multi-specific immune cell engagers,” with an antibody approach that applies to a variety of disease settings, bringing in the tumor cell killers needed to directly engage cancer.

And Hoess — who also has a sister subsidiary company that specializes in antibodies called AbCheck — says there’s lots for both sides to learn from as they explore NK and macrophage activation, teeing up new programs that Genentech will be responsible for taking through the clinic.

Hoess is also happy that the new deal gives his company the cash it needs to start positioning their own lead therapies for pivotal studies — drugs that remain wholly owned by the biotech.

James Sabry

This is the first new deal struck by James Sabry since he jumped from his post as deal czar at Genentech to the executive committee in Basel responsible for BD for all of Roche. But it does have all the traditional thumbprints that you’d normally associate with Genentech, which has never been particularly splashy about its dealmaking plans.

I last reported on Affimed in the wake of the European Hematology Association meeting last June, when its stock was banged up after the biotech noted that its lead drug AFM13, an NK cell engager candidate, had hit its target on 16 of 18 patients.

By the end of the day Tuesday, though, the stock punched through the roof at Nasdaq, rising 247% on the deal.

Genentech has been steadily bleeding talent in the wake of the big Roche buyout. And a recent reorganization in the Bay Area has spurred some troubled thinking that Roche’s longtime hands-off approach to the big biotech has come to a close. 

Sabry, though, is still swinging away.

“This collaboration is based on Affimed’s innate immune cell drug discovery and development expertise and our team’s deep understanding of cancer immunology,” commented Sabry, the newly dubbed head of partnering for Roche. “Our partnership with Affimed provides an opportunity to enhance our existing efforts to understand how the immune system can be activated to help people living with cancer.”

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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