Deals, Pre-clinical

Celgene rolls along with another epigenetic preclinical deal featuring a Canadian biotech

In another declaration of its ongoing commitment to dealmaking, Celgene is turning to longtime partners at Triphase Accelerator for its latest preclinical asset.

The area in focus this time? Epigenetics.

Specifically, the drug that Celgene has just paid $40 million for targets the WDR5 protein, which is deemed critical for the formation and DNA-regulating activities of MLL1-associated methylation complexes. They believe it’s a first-in-class candidate holding promise in a range of blood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia.

It’s an option deal — Celgene’s favorite type — that gives the Big Biotech the choice to acquire the drug after Phase II proof-of-concept. That would unlock $940 million in potential development, regulatory and sales milestones for Triphase Accelerator.

Since Bristol-Myers Squibb announced its $74 billion buyout deal for Celgene at the beginning of the year, it’s triggered widespread fears that one of the most prolific BD teams in the industry will be sidelined. Ranked among the top 10 venture investors for cancer R&D and top 50 for all therapeutic areas, Celgene is known among smaller players for paying top dollars for research it’s excited about. So far it’s shown no sign of flagging yet, signing onto immuno-oncology partnerships with Kyn Therapeutics and Obsidian Therapeutics just days ago.

Rima Al Awar

A spinout of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Triphase began its strategic relationship with Celgene shortly after its launch in 2010, which entitled Celgene to rights of first refusal and first negotiation to a handful of products in its pipeline.

That relationship was likely a key factor for FACIT — the Ontario-based organization which first launched a startup dubbed Propellon to take the WDR5 drug from Rima Al-awar’s drug discovery team at OICR into commercialization — in its decision to transfer the asset to Triphase for further development. The drug is now known as TRPH-395.


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Sr. Manager, Regulatory Affairs, CMC
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