Agenus said today it has acquired rights from Diatheva for antibodies targeting carcinoembryonic antigen cell adhesion molecule 1 (CEACAM1). The deal could generate up to $44 million, plus sales milestones and royalties, for Diatheva.

CEACAM1, a glycoprotein expressed on T cell and NK cell lymphocytes, is overexpressed in melanoma, bladder, lung, colon, pancreas, and gastric cancers. With preclinical studies showing that CEACAM1 modulated innate and adaptive immune suppression, Agenus reasons that antibodies targeting CEACAM1 have potential to effectively treat cancer alone or in combination with other checkpoint modulator antibodies—including those in its own development pipeline.

Agenus has used its Retrocyte DisplayTM and SECANT® platforms to discover and develop its pipeline of checkpoint antibodies. They include four that are being co-developed with Incyte under an up-to-$410 million-plus collaboration, and limited to hematology/oncology indications—agonists for GITR and OX40; and antagonists for TIM-3, and LAG-3.

All are due for IND filings this year and next, as are two antibodies being developed without partners, antagonists for CTLA-4 and PD-1. The six are all in preclinical phases, as are two additional antibodies being co-developed under a recently-renewed $100 million-plus collaboration with Merck & Co., whose targets and disease areas are undisclosed.

“Diatheva’s anti-CEACAM1 monoclonal antibodies expand and complement our broad portfolio of checkpoint modulators and personalized cancer vaccines, with the potential to create best-in-class combination therapies for treating patients with cancer,” Agenus CSO Robert Stein, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement.

Added Professor Mauro Magnani, Ph.D., Diatheva’s founder and scientific director: “Agenus’ proven immuno-oncology and development capabilities, represents an exciting opportunity for Diatheva’s most advanced human monoclonal antibodies. Agenus’ selection of our anti-CEACAM1 antibodies is indicative of the quality of Diatheva’s research and will support reinvestment in our company’s pipeline.”

Under the companies’ license agreement, Agenus will receive exclusive, worldwide rights for development and commercialization of CEACAM1 antibodies from Diatheva. Agenus has agreed to pay Diatheva as much as $44 million in upfront, early development, clinical trial, and regulatory milestone payments for the successful development of CEACAM1 antibodies. Diatheva is also eligible for additional sales milestones and royalties.

Agenus’ pipeline also includes a heat shock protein vaccine, Prophage, that has successfully completed Phase II studies in newly diagnosed glioblastoma multiforme; and QS-21 Stimulon® adjuvant, under development with GlaxoSmithKline and Janssen Sciences Ireland, with two vaccine candidates containing QS-21 having successfully completed Phase III trials.

Founded in 2002, Diatheva is a spinoff of the University of Urbino focused on the development, production and commercialization of antibodies, recombinant proteins, immunoassays and molecular diagnostic kits for cancer, microbial detection and pharmacogenetics. Diatheva has been majority-owned by the SOL Group since 2012.

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