Gilead taps Tentarix for cancer, inflammation projects

Dustin Humes

Gilead Sciences has put $66 million down to start a collaboration with San Diego start-up Tentarix Biotherapeutics to develop new therapeutics for cancer and inflammatory diseases.

The agreement – which includes an equity investment in Tentarix – initially gives Gilead opt-in rights to three programmes and subsidiaries formed around them at $80 million each, giving the deal a total potential value of $306 million.

Tentarix emerged in 2021 with a $50 million first-round fundraising to support its Tentacles drug discovery platform, based on protein therapeutics that target multiple, specific proteins on the surface of cells, but are only active when all are present.

The antibody-based therapies have custom 'tentacles' that can be designed to bind to several different targets – for example, immune checkpoints like PD-1, LAG3, and ICOS, or various interleukin receptors – which gives multiple functions in a single drug molecule.

Tentarix claims that the resulting therapies can conditionally target immune cells involved in disease pathways, without activating other immune cells that may cause adverse events.

Gilead isn't saying anything about the targets it is interested in, but Tentarix's in-house work has been focusing on a drug targeting IL-2 receptors on tumour-reactive T-cells in the tumour microenvironment.

Gilead's head of research, Flavius Martin, remarked that the partnership ties into the company's strategy of "addressing immune dysregulation in oncology and inflammatory diseases" and will build on its "growing strength in protein therapeutics."

Gilead has steadily expanded its pipeline in the last few years, after a strategic-level alliance with Galapagos disappointed, with a $21 billion takeover of Immunomedics and near-$5 billion acquisition of Forty Seven in 2020, accompanied by a string of smaller bolt-on deals.

There is a particular focus on oncology, where Gilead has the target of making at least a third of its revenues by 2030, and latterly the company has been building for the future with smaller, early-stage platform deals.

The Tentarix collaboration follows the acquisition of XinThera in May, also focusing on oncology and inflammatory diseases, the completion of its purchase of autologous CAR-T developer Tmunity, and an agreement with EVOQ Therapeutics focusing on lymph-targeted delivery of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Gilead said it expects the Tentarix deal to reduce its earnings per share (EPS) by 3 to 4 cents in full-year 2023.

Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash.