AbbVie signs potential $2.4bn cancer immunotherapy deal with Harpoon

AbbVie has signed a deal worth up to $2.4 billion with the US biotech Harpoon Therapeutics, expanding a research and licensing collaboration involving technology that trains T-cells to target BCMA, a biomarker associated with multiple myeloma.

The deal gives AbbVie an exclusive option on a worldwide license for HPN217, Harpoon’s BCMA-targeting drug, and an expansion of their existing discovery collaboration for up to six additional targets.

These agreements build upon the discovery collaboration established by the two companies in October 2017 and are expected to advance and broaden the use of Harpoon’s Tri-specific T cell Activating Construct (TriTAC) technology.

This produces novel T-cell engagers targeting both solid tumours and blood cancers.

Aside from the option on HPN217, AbbVie will receive worldwide exclusive rights to develop and market two new TriTAC molecules engineered for two selected targets.

AbbVie has an option to select up to four additional targets, and for each of these potential six targets the big pharma will pay Harpoon up to $310 million upfront for potential development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments plus royalties on global sales.

In line with existing arrangements Harpoon and AbbVie will conduct certain initial research and discovery activities for each designated target, after which AbbVie will be solely responsible for further development and marketing efforts.

The deal makes sense for AbbVie, which is already targeting multiple myeloma with its cancer drug Venclexta/Venclyxto (venetoclax), although it is not yet approved in this indication after a troubled clinical development programme that has been delayed because of safety issues.

Harpoon was founded by Patrick Baeuerle, who has pioneered T-cell engaging therapies, and is partner in the biotech’s investor MPM Capital, as well as serving on the biotech’s board as a director.

Its current CEO is Dr Jerry McMahon, who took over Baeuerle in 2016, and spearheaded the original licensing deal with AbbVie in 2017, the biotech’s only major partnership.

McMahon was formerly CEO of immunotherapy firm Kolltan Pharmaceuticals, and led its acquisition by Celldex.

Before this he held positions at AstraZeneca’s MedImmune biologics arm, where he was senior vice president of R&D oncology, and Bay City Capital, where he was a venture partner.

McMahon said: “We believe AbbVie is the ideal partner for Harpoon to support the advancement of our BCMA program given the commercial focus of AbbVie in the treatment of this cancer. In addition, we look forward to expanding our discovery collaboration to include up to six additional molecular targets.”

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