Incyte grabs control of a cancer drug from Calithera’s pipeline for $53M up front

Incyte $INCY has swooped in and gained control of Calithera’s $CALA number #2 cancer drug with a $53 million cash payday.

Reid Huber, Incyte

The collaboration gives Incyte the lead on CB-1158, a therapy designed to inhibit arginase, an enzyme that reins in T-cell and natural killer cell activation in tumors. The plan is to test it as a monotherapy but also in combination with immuno-oncology drugs – in particular an anti-PD-1 therapy – to test its potential for future combos.

Incyte is paying $45 million upfront and $8 million for equity in Calithera. Incyte is also taking the lead on the development work, covering 70% of the costs. And there are plenty of biobucks packed into the deal as well, with $430 million in milestones.

Calithera retains the right to co-detail the drug in the US, with a 40% split of the profits. And if they decide to drop the co-funding option, Calithera can up the milestone package to $750 million and look for a bigger royalty to cover its earlier expenses.

The news pushed Calithera’s shares up 50% this morning.

For Incyte, the deal comes after another promising glimpse of its data from a combination of their IDO1 drug epacadostat with Merck’s PD-1 checkpoint therapy Keytruda, which is now in a pivotal trial. Incyte also struck a deal, with $200 million upfront, with Merus last December for its bispecific antibody tech. And the biotech seems intent on finding new ways to improve on combinations drugs as it pursues a key approval for its lead therapy.

“Arginase-expressing tumor-infiltrating myeloid cells have been shown to play an important role in orchestrating the immune suppressive microenvironment in cancer; but, to date, therapeutic targeting of the arginase enzyme has remained elusive,” said Reid Huber, Ph.D., Incyte’s Chief Scientific Officer. “The addition of this first-in-class, small molecule arginase inhibitor, CB-1158, to our portfolio expands our innovative immuno-oncology pipeline and allows us to continue to advance our mission of discovering and developing immune-active combination therapies to treat patients with cancer.”

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