AbbVie takes gamble on Infinity’s blood cancer drug

AbbVie has signed a major deal to co-develop and co-market duvelisib, a new oral treatment for blood cancers.

The firm is to pay $275 million up front and $530 million in potential milestones to Infinity, based in Cambridge Massachusetts, for rights to the drug.

Many analysts conclude that Infinity have secured a very favourable deal, as the drug will have to compete with two strong contenders which have just hit the US market – Gilead’s Zydelig and Janssen’s Imbruvica.

From AbbVie’s viewpoint, the deal is a gamble, reflecting its need to find drugs to help replace lost earnings when its flagship drug Humira loses its market exclusivity in 2016.

Duvelisib is currently in phase 2 trials for indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (iNHL) and a phase 3 trial for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The deal gives AbbVie the right to co-market the drug in the US with Infinity, as well as sole rights to market it in all other global markets.

The partnership will AbbVie pursue its ambition of becoming a major player in oncology, adding to its existing pipeline of cancer drugs which are nearing the market.

Michael Severino, MD, AbbVie executive vice president and chief scientific officer said:

“The addition of duvelisib will complement AbbVie’s emerging oncology pipeline and expand our research into combination therapies to generate improved outcomes for cancer patients. We look forward to working with Infinity to bring duvelisib to patients worldwide.”

Already in AbbVie’s phase 3 pipeline are three major cancer candidates: elotuzumab for multiple myeloma, ABT-199 for chronic lymphocytic leukemia and veliparib for BRCA-deficient breast cancer and NSCLC.

Adelene Q. Perkins, chair, president and chief executive at Infinity said:

“AbbVie will be a wonderful partner for Infinity, bringing all of the expertise and scale of a successful, well established company, together with the energy, drive, innovation, and nimbleness of a young organization. We look forward to advancing duvelisib through monotherapy studies designed to enable registration and in furthering our shared longer-term vision of combining duvelisib with both current standards of care and novel, targeted therapies.”

The agreement includes plans to launch multiple phase 2 and phase 3 studies of duvelisib in haematologic malignancies over the next few years.

AbbVie and its new partner will have to prove their drug can offer a strong alternative to a wave of new drugs in haemato-oncology now reaching the market. The newest entrants are Gilead’s Zydelig and Janssen’s Imbruvica, to new treatments set to advance the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which were approved in the US in July and February respectively.

Zydelig ((idelalisib) is a first-in-class inhibitor of PI3K delta, a protein that is over-expressed in many B-cell malignancies and plays a role in the viability, proliferation and migration of these cancer cells.

AbbVie and Infinity’s drug duvelisib targeting PI3K-delta and a second, similar target, PI3K-gamma. The companies say that provide multiple opportunities to develop differentiated therapies for the treatment of hematologic malignancies.

The AbbVie and Infinity deal is complicated by the fact that Purdue/Mundipharma and Millenium (part of Takeda) must also take a share of royalties, having intellectual property from the earlier stages of the drug’s development.

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