Gilead Sciences is continuing its push into cancer immunotherapy, launching a partnership with Agenus to develop and commercialize up to five novel immuno-oncology (I-O) treatments through a collaboration that could generate more than $1.85 billion for the Lexington, MA, biotech.

The companies have disclosed three of the five treatment candidates to be developed. One is AGEN1423, a bispecific antibody which according to Agenus has the potential to enhance the antitumor activity of myeloid cells, NK cells, T cells, and cancer-associated fibroblasts. Gilead will receive worldwide exclusive rights to AGEN1423, which has an estimated IND filing by the end of this year.

Gilead will also receive exclusive options to license the other two therapy candidates disclosed in today’s announcement:

  • AGEN1223, a bispecific antibody designed to selectively deplete immunosuppressive T regulatory cells from the tumor microenvironment by taking advantage of co-expression of the target antigens specifically on tumor-infiltrating T regulatory cells.
  • AGEN2373, a CD137 agonist designed to boost the immune response to cancer cells by enhancing CD137 co-stimulatory signaling in activated immune cells.

Agenus has filed an IND for AGEN1223 and has an estimated IND filing for AGEN2373 in the first half of 2019, the companies said.

Agenus will oversee development of the option programs up to the points where Gilead will decide on acquiring exclusive rights to the programs. For one of the option programs, Agenus will have the right to opt-in to shared development and commercialization in the U.S., the companies said.

Gilead will also receive right of first negotiation for two additional, undisclosed preclinical programs.

“Our collaboration with Agenus gives us access to novel and differentiated immune modulating antibodies that will complement our growing oncology portfolio and cell therapy business. We look forward to partnering with the Agenus team,” John McHutchison, AO, M.D., CSO and head of research and development, Gilead Sciences, said in a statement.

Added Garo Armen, Ph.D., chairman and CEO, Agenus, “By year-end, our discovery platforms will have resulted in six INDs in 2018 and 13 INDs by the 1H2019. Gilead’s established global presence and commitment to disruptive therapies, combined with our track record in building a broad pipeline in I-O, has the potential to yield breakthrough I-O treatments for patients with cancer.”

Gilead agreed to pay Agenus $150 million upon closing, to consist of $120 million cash upfront and a $30 million equity investment in Agenus. Gilead also agreed to pay Agenus up to approximately $1.7 billion in fees and payments tied to achieving milestones.

Investors responded to the collaboration announcement with a stock-buying surge that sent shares of Agenus up 32% over yesterday’s closing price of $2.01 per share in early trading, to $2.65 as of 10:26 a.m.

The collaboration comes more than a year after Gilead completed its $11.9 billion acquisition of Kite Pharma and its chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) pipeline—and nearly two months after Gilead launched a potentially more-than-$1.7 billion partnership with Tango Therapeutics to develop targeted immuno-oncology treatments aimed at up to five targets emerging from Tango’s functional genomics-based discovery platform.

The Agenus partnership is the second billion-dollar-plus collaboration in as many days announced by Gilead. Yesterday the biotech giant teamed up with Scholar Rock to launch a potentially more-than-$1.53 billion strategic alliance to discover and develop highly specific inhibitors of transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) activation for the treatment of fibrotic diseases.

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