Despite its recent executive exodus, cancer biotech Immunocore’s appetite for partnership deals remains relentless. The Oxford University spinout is now set to test a preclinical asset in combination with Roche’s $RHBBY Tecentriq for a hefty $100 million, building on an existing partnership with the Swiss drugmaker’s Genetech unit that began in 2013.
On Monday, the UK biotech announced it will jointly develop with Genentech its preclinical asset, IMC-C103C, which is designed to target tumors that express the protein MAGE-A4 (Melanoma-Associated Antigen A4) — a known cancer-associated antigen expressed in a wide range of malignancies — for $100 million in upfront and near-term milestone payments. Immunocore is no stranger to large payouts — the company raised an eye-popping $320 million in its Series A round of funding in 2015, and has already sealed partnerships with AstraZeneca $AZN, GlaxoSmithKline $GSK, Eli Lilly $LLY, Roche and the Gates Foundation.
Under the new Roche deal, Immunocore is tasked with conducting the first human trials testing the safety and efficacy of IMC-C103C as both monotherapy and in combination with Tecentriq in studies that are set to begin early next year in patients with different types of solid tumors. If and when proof-of-concept data are established, Immunocore has the option to co-develop IMC-C103C all the way to the finish line, or to fully license the asset to Genentech in return for royalty and milestone payments, the company said.
In September, it was reported that Immunocore’s chief strategy officer Kevin Pojasek had exited the company, adding to a laundry list of C-suite departures that began with CEO Eliot Forster — who made the decision to leave even though he was engaged in trying to raise another massive round for the company. Forster’s departure was followed by a number of other farewells, which have all been put down to personal reasons. However, discussions with several people familiar with the talks inside Immunocore suggested the biotech was having a hard time sticking with its high-end unicorn valuation.
Undeterred by the mass exodus, Roche has inked this new deal as it plots to establish its immunotherapy Tecentriq as a viable competitor to offerings from Merck $MRK and Bristol-Myers Squibb $BMY, who have become the de facto winners in the field.
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