Agenus said it has acquired PhosImmune for up to $44.9 million in cash and stock, in a deal the buyer said would give it the ability to speed up development of new cancer vaccines, other single agent immuno-oncology approaches, and combination therapies.

PhosImmune controls a library of cancer neoantigens discovered by researchers at the University of Virginia—which spun out the company in 2012—and the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

According to the companies, those PhosImmune neoantigens or phosphopeptide tumor targets (PTTs) offer unique advantages in cancer immunotherapy. PTTs are fragments of proteins expressed in cancer cells that are phosphorylated due to signal dysregulation involved in the development of cancers, thus appearing as foreign to the immune system.

The companies said the PTTs can work with Agenus’ AutoSynVax™ vaccine program for targeting patient-specific tumor neoantigens. Specifically, PTTs can expand AutoSynVax (ASV) and other immunotherapeutic approaches to include patients with lower levels of mutations that may not have enough neoantigens to activate the immune system effectively.

The ASV platform is designed to generate synthetic peptide neoantigens complexed with heat shock proteins that shuttle these neoantigens to antigen-presenting cells. Agenus’ heat shock protein-based vaccine, Prophage™, has successfully completed Phase II studies in newly diagnosed glioblastoma. Agenus is also collaborating with Merck & Co. and Incyte to develop multiple checkpoint modulators.

PTTs can also be shared by patients with specific cancers, providing the potential for “off-the-shelf” vaccines, according to Agenus.

“PhosImmune’s groundbreaking neoantigen assets significantly expand Agenus’ current efforts, and present exciting near-term opportunities for new products and partnerships,” Agenus chairman and CEO Garo H. Armen, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Added Robert B. Stein, M.D., Ph.D., Agenus’ CSO and head of R&D: “Our entire portfolio will benefit from the world-class peptide analytics expertise of PhosImmune’s founders. We believe there are a number of near-term opportunities to advance potentially powerful cancer therapies into the clinic that build on and leverage the ongoing work at Agenus.”

Agenus paid PhosImmune’s equity holders $2.5 million in upfront cash and $7.4 million in shares of Agenus common stock valued at approximately $4.54 per share at the closing of the deal yesterday. Agenus also agreed to shell out $35 million in cash and/or stock tied to achieving milestones. Those milestones are related to share price, Agenus said in a regulatory filing.

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