Baxalta will partner with Symphogen to develop the latter’s broad portfolio of early-stage immuno-oncology programs, the companies said today, under a collaboration that could generate up to $1.6 billion for Symphogen.

The companies agreed to advance new treatments against six undisclosed checkpoint targets, with the first program to enter clinical studies in 2017.

Symphogen is a developer of antibody therapeutics for cancer that has focused on creating antibody mixtures that address multiple oncology targets in a single drug product. The company has a discovery-phase immune-oncology program aimed at developing 10 to 15 targets, in addition to the collaboration with Baxalta.

“This collaboration also provides strong validation for Symphogen’s antibody approach and capabilities within the exciting field of immuno-oncology therapy,” Göran Ando, M.D., chairman of Symphogen’s board of directors, said in a statement.

Symphogen will oversee R&D through Phase I clinical trials at its expense. However, following successful completion of Phase I studies, Baxalta will have exclusive option rights to complete late-stage development and worldwide commercialization on a product-by-product basis, the companies said.

In return, Symphogen will receive an upfront payment of $175 million from Baxalta, and potentially up to $1.6 billion in option fees and milestones, in addition to royalties on worldwide sales.

Baxalta is the Baxter International spinout that launched in July 2015, and the subject of widespread speculation over the weekend that it is close to being acquired by Shire, with Bloomberg News reporting that a merger deal could be valued at about $32 billion.

Oncology is among Baxalta’s three areas of therapeutic focus. Baxalta’s cancer offerings include the Oncaspar® (pegaspargase) product portfolio for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which Baxter bought last year from Sigma-Tau Finanziaria for $900 million; and Onivyde (MM-398; irinotecan liposome injection), co-developed with Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and approved by the FDA in October in combination with fluorouracil and leucovorin for metastatic pancreatic cancer in patients previously treated with gemcitabine-based chemotherapy.

The alliance with Symphogen will expand the Baxter International spinout’s oncology portfolio into cancer immunotherapies.

“For Baxalta, this is just the beginning of our focus in building world-class capabilities in immuno-oncology,” stated David Meek, Baxalta’s evp and president, oncology. “This exciting partnership aligns well to Baxalta’s strategy to invest in immuno-oncology and build an innovative portfolio of immunotherapies.”

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