Cash-poor Agenus finds itself a generous partner in Gilead, shares surge
Cancer drug developer Agenus had a tough 2017 — it had to amend its antibody deal with Incyte $INCY for a quick cash infusion to overcome a painful trial setback for its lead glioblastoma vaccine, in a series of events that culminated in a restructuring. On Thursday, the Lexington, MA-based company had something to cheer about as Gilead $GILD signed on as a partner on up to five of its immuno-oncology programs. And cheer it did investors, who lifted the stock $AGEN a hefty 57% pre-market.
Under the deal, Agenus gets a much-needed $120 million upfront cash payment and a $30 million equity investment, in addition to up to $1.7 billion in potential future fees and milestones.
Agenus was in desperate need of some cash (and good news). This Gilead deal came at the right moment. Congrats to them.
— Brad Loncar (@bradloncar) December 20, 2018
Gilead will receive exclusive global rights to AGEN1423, which has an estimated IND filing by year-end 2018. The drugmaker will also enjoy the exclusive option to license two additional programs: AGEN1223 and AGEN2373. Agenus has already filed the IND for AGEN1223 and plans to do so for AGEN2373 in the first half of 2019, the companies said.
AGEN1423 is a bispecific antibody with the potential to enhance the anti-tumor activity of myeloid cells, NK cells, T cells, and cancer associated fibroblasts; AGEN1223 is another bispecific antibody; while AGEN2373 is a monoclonal antibody that is designed to boost the immune response to cancer cells by enhancing CD137 signalling in activated immune cells, according to the company’s website.
Gilead turned to the lucrative field of immuno-oncology to replace its waning hep C franchise. Last year, the big biotech swallowed Kite Pharma for nearly $12 billion to gain access to their in CAR-T therapies. More recently, it forked out $50 million upfront to Tango Therapeutics to tap into their I/O engine. With billions of cash in hand, and under new CEO Daniel O’Day who is hoping to steer the ship to greener pastures, we can only expect the trend to continue.
“By year end, our discovery platforms will have resulted in six INDs in 2018 and 13 INDs by the 1H2019,” Agenus CEO Garo Armen said in a statement.