AbbVie takes option on Argenx’s cancer immunotherapy

Shares in biotech Argenx were soaring this morning after the company announced that AbbVie has exercised an option to license and develop its experimental cancer immunotherapy ARGX-115.

The two companies struck an option and licence agreement for ARGX-115 in April 2016, and AbbVie has taken an option on a worldwide exclusive licence to develop and market ARGX-115 based products.

Argenx could receive payments of up to $625 million if development, regulatory and commercial goals are met, as well as tiered royalties on ARGX-115-based product sales if approved.

The Belgian-Dutch biotech also has the right to co-promote ARGX-115 products in the EU and Switzerland.

ARGX-115, which is not yet in clinical trials, binds specifically to the glycoprotein A repetitions predominant (GARP), which plays a key role in regulation of production and release of active transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta).

Through this mechanism ARGX-115 is believed to selectively limit the immunosuppressive activity of activated regulatory T-cells (Tregs), thereby stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells.

Tregs normally suppress certain parts of the immune system to prevent self-directed immune response through the release of active TGF-beta.

But they can also prevent the immune system from recognising and suppressing cancer cells.

Argenx believes the inhibition of TGF-beta release is potentially superior to inhibition of the protein, or depletion of Tregs, leading to products with an improved safety profile.

ARGX-115 was discovered under Argenx’s Innovative Access Program with the de Duve Institute, Université Catholique de Louvain, and WELBIO and exclusively licensed under a research and option agreement in 2013.

Eli Lilly is one of the leaders in the field of TGF-beta inhibition, and has galunisertib in phase 2/3 development for hepatocellular carcinoma.

Tom Hudson, vice president of oncology early discovery and development at AbbVie, said: “Immuno-oncology is one of AbbVie’s key focus areas in our mission to discover and develop medicines that drive transformational improvements in cancer treatment.”

“Our collaboration with Argenx over the past two years has been productive, and we look forward to continue working together to fuel scientific progress for patients.”

AbbVie is lagging behind rivals in the field of cancer immunotherapy. While Bristol Myers-Squibb and Merck & Co have been marketing PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors for several years, AbbVie’s PD-1 drug is only in early trials. AbbVie also has an anti-CD40 antibody in early stage development for solid tumours.



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