AbbVie forges $3.9 billion oncology alliance with Genmab

AbbVie will pay Danish antibody specialist Genmab $750 million upfront for rights to a series of drugs headed by epcoritamab, a bispecific antibody in development for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The broad-ranging alliance includes two other named antibodies, one in clinical trials and another in pre-clinical development, as well as a commitment to work together on discovering new medicines  for cancer.

All told, the total value of the deal could go as high as $3.9 billion, which Genmab says is the fourth-largest cancer collaboration in record in the biopharma industry.

Prior to the AbbVie announcement, epcoritamab (GEN3013) was one of Genmab’s lead in-house development projects, as the Danish biotech had advanced it into a phase 1/2 trial in B-cell NHL, with preliminary results presented at this year’s virtual ASCO congress.

The trial showed that the double-headed antibody – which targets CD3 on white blood cells and CD20 on tumour cells – was tolerable and showed evidence of clinical activity in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and follicular lymphoma (FL) patients.  

Epcoritamab has been held up as a prime partnering project by Genmab chief executive Jan van de Winkel for the last few months, but one which is also tied to the company’s ambition to start selling its own products.

Genmab already has a proven heritage of successful collaborations with big pharma companies that have so far generated three marketed products.

Its first was Novartis’ Arzerra (ofatumumab) for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia – which is also in late-stage development as a multiple sclerosis therapy – while earlier this year Horizon Pharma claimed approval for Tepezza (teprotumumab), an antibody for the treatment of thyroid eye disease.

Its biggest success to date by a long margin is the alliance with Johnson & Johnson on blockbuster multiple myeloma therapy Darzalex (daratumumab), a near-$3 billion product last year in intravenous form which has also just been approved in a new subcutaneous formulation.

With epcoritamab, Genmab and AbbVie will share commercial rights in the US and Japan, with AbbVie having sole rights elsewhere in the world. Genmab will book its own sales in the US and Japan and is in line for royalties of 22% to 26% elsewhere.

Other companies are developing CD3xCD20 bispecifics as well, including Roche’s mosunetuzumab and CD20-TCB and Regeneron’s REGN5678, which are already in clinical trials, as well as candidates from the likes of Protheragen and IGM Biosciences in preclinical development.

Nevertheless, analysts at Jefferies think epcoritamab could become a $1.5 billion product, particularly with the help of AbbVie’s established presence in blood cancers with drugs like Imbruvica (ibrutinib) and Venclexta (venetoclax).

AbbVie is also licensing rights to two additional bispecific antibodies – GEN3009, an anti-CD37 drug that is already in clinical trials for blood cancers, and a CD3x5T4 candidate in preclinical development. Along with epcoritamab those drugs could net Genmab up to $2 billion in milestones.

A big part of the deal is a discovery research collaboration that will see the two companies combine their respective antibody technologies to create up to four additional medicines.

“By combining the strengths of our two organisations, we can advance the treatment landscape for patients battling cancer,” said AbbVie’s R&D head Michael Severino.

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