Juno Therapeutics has acquired RedoxTherapies for $10 million upfront-plus, giving the cancer immunotherapy developer a small molecule adenosine A2a receptor antagonist that it plans to study in combination with its engineered T-cell platform.

The small molecule, vipadenant, has the potential to disrupt immunosuppressive pathways in the tumor microenvironment in certain cancers and may be explored in other areas as well, Juno said.

The company cited preclinical models that have shown that inhibiting the adenosine pathway by blocking A2a receptor signaling enhanced the efficacy of adoptive T-cell therapy, checkpoint inhibitors, and vaccines across a number of blood and solid organ cancers.

In Phase I and II clinical trials in approximately 250 Parkinson's disease patients and healthy volunteers, vipadenant reached serum levels that predicted a blocking of signaling through the adenosine pathway through saturation of the A2a receptor, Juno added.

Juno agreed to pay $10 million in upfront cash for privately held Redox, which is also eligible for an undisclosed amount of additional payments tied to achieving clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestones.

In addition to vipadenant, Juno’s acquisition of Redox includes proprietary know-how and intellectual property pertaining to the development of A2a receptor antagonists in combination with immunomodulatory agents, such as Juno’s engineered T cells.

“Multiple approaches to overcoming the tumor microenvironment will be key in optimizing the clinical benefit of engineered T cells, and T cells more broadly, in the treatment of cancer. Inhibiting the adenosine pathway is one of the most intriguing pathways in this important area of science, and we look forward to testing the hypothesis around this pathway clinically,” Juno CSO Hy Levitsky, M.D., said in a statement. “We look forward to integrating this asset into our ongoing research and clinical efforts and exploring it in combination with product candidates from our portfolio.”

Redox gained rights to vipadenant in 2014 through a licensing deal with Vernalis whose value was not disclosed. Redox founder and adenosine biology pioneer Michail Sitkovsky, Ph.D., will become a scientific consultant to Juno.

Juno’s acquisition of Redox was announced late yesterday, 2 days after the company said it will resume its Phase II ROCKET clinical trial of its acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) candidate JCAR015 following the FDA’s lifting of a partial clinical hold imposed last week following the disclosure of patient deaths.

On Wednesday, Juno submitted a regulatory filing correcting earlier public statements by acknowledging that four patients have died in trials related to its chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) candidates, rather than the three stated by Mark Gilbert, Juno svp and CMO, on a July 7 conference call with analysts.

The fourth death occurred in a young adult patient with relapsed or refractory B-cell ALL during a trial of JCAR014. The patients received preconditioning with a combination of cyclophosphamide and fludarabine, as well as a higher JCAR014 cell dose than is now used on that trial, Juno said, adding that the death was included in data presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting in December 2015.

Juno has also blamed the ROCKET trial deaths deaths on the cyclophosphamide and fludarabine preconditioning combination. The company has won FDA approval to return to the ROCKET trial’s original protocol of using cyclophosphamide alone.

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