Ipsen licenses Sutro ADC in $900m deal


Ipsen has expanded its oncology pipeline by licensing rights to an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) for solid tumours from Sutro Biopharma, its first drug in the category.

The deal, which has a top-end value of $900 million including $90 million in near-term payments, focuses on STRO-003, a preclinical-stage ADC targeting receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 1 (ROR1).

ROR1 is a cellular protein normally found in embryonic tissues, but absent in adult tissues. It does, however, occur in some malignant cells, raising the prospect of using it to deliver targeted cancer therapy. It is thought to inhibit programmed cell death (apoptosis) that is supposed to occur when cells become defective and is associated with a wide range of solid tumours and haematological cancers.

Mary Jane Hinrichs, head of early development at Ipsen, said STRO-003 has “best-in-class” potential as it chases other ROR1-directed therapies that are further along in development.

Other ROR1-targeted therapies in the industry pipeline include MSD’s ADC zilovertamab vedotin (MK-2140, VLS-101), which came from its $2.75 billion acquisition of VelosBio in 2020 and generated promising results in relapsed/refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in the waveLINE-001 reported last year. It is now in phase 3 testing.

ROR1 ADC candidate NBE-002 was also at the heart of Boehringer Ingelheim’s move to buy NBE Therapeutics for almost $1.5 billion in the same year. At the time, it was in phase 1 for breast, lung, and ovarian cancers.

Oncternal Therapeutics – which has rights to the zilovertamab antibody used in MSD’s ADC – is focusing on the development of a ROR1-directed autologous CAR-T therapy, codenamed ONCT-808-101, which is in a phase 1/2 trial involving patients with relapsed or refractory aggressive B-cell lymphoma.

Meanwhile, UK biotech NovalGen is running a phase 1 trial of a bispecific T-cell engager (TCE) antibody targeting ROR1 and CD3, called NVG-111, involving patients with NHL and solid tumours, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and malignant melanoma.

Hinrichs said STRO-003 is “a highly stable conjugate,” which should reduce its potential for off-target side effects. The drug carries “exatecan payloads […] that have shown significant potential in solid tumours,” she added.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ipsen is taking responsibility for phase 1 preparation activities for the ADC, including submission of the investigational new drug (IND) application to the FDA, as well as all subsequent clinical development and global commercialisation activities.