Astellas Pharma will partner with Potenza Therapeutics to build a portfolio of immune-oncology therapeutics, the companies said yesterday.

The value of the exclusive R&D collaboration was not disclosed, but includes an equity investment, option fee, research funding, milestone payments—and an option for Astellas to acquire Potenza on pre-determined terms at the end of the collaboration period.

Astellas and Potenza said their collaboration is intended to advance a portfolio of programs with new mechanisms of action targeting immune checkpoint pathways, co-stimulatory signals and regulatory T cells.

The companies are among dozens of drug developers working to fight cancer by weaponizing the immune system against the disease. Sixteen such companies were highlighted last week by GEN.

Potenza will lead drug discovery activities and deliver development candidates to Astellas, which will oversee clinical development activities and commercialization.

“Despite the recent clinical success of checkpoint-blocking monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA-4, there still remains significant unmet medical need in non-responder patients and unresponsive tumor types,” Kenji Yasukawa, Ph.D., svp and chief strategy officer of Astellas, said in a statement.

Added Daniel J. Hicklin, Ph.D., Potenza’s co-founder and CEO: “The new targets and pathways that Potenza is working on offer promise for continued expansion of immunotherapy treatment options.”

Founded last year and based in Cambridge, MA, Potenza explains few details of its immunotherapy approach on its website, but does list members of its scientific advisory board.

Among them are Drew Pardoll, M.D., PH.D., director of cancer immunology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center of Johns Hopkins Medicine and an inventor of GVAX cancer vaccines and Listeria monocytogenes-based cancer vaccines; and Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., chief, melanoma and immunotherapeutics service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a key investigator in the clinical development of the Bristol-Myers Squibb cancer immunotherapeutic Yervoy® (ipilimumab).

Astellas has had its eyes on Potenza before the new collaboration: The pharma’s VC arm, Astellas Venture Management, was among investors participating in the $38 million series A equity financing round closed by Potenza in December 2014. That financing was led by a founding investor in Potenza, MPM Capital, with participation by InterWest Partners.

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