Novartis said today that it has acquired Admune Therapeutics for an undisclosed price, in addition to licensing agreements signed with Palobiofarma and XOMA—all deals intended to broaden the pharma giant’s immuno-oncology pipeline.

Novartis said that its pipeline will grow with the addition of Admune’s lead compound heterodimeric IL-15:IL-15Ra (hetIL-15 or IL-15) agonist program, now in Phase I clinical trials for metastatic cancer. That trial, which is being conducted through the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, began in June. In pre-clinical studies, IL-15 therapies have been shown to activate CD8+, CD4+ memory T cells, and natural killer (NK) cells that play a critical role in stimulating the immune system, Novartis noted. Admune has said that IL-15 holds potential for broad applications for cancer immunotherapy in combination with immune checkpoint blockers and/or antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity.

The IL-15 program joins a Novartis pipeline that now consists of four candidates in clinical trials, with five more candidates expected to enter the clinic by the end of 2016.

The number of candidates will also grow following Novartis’ licensing deals with Palobiofarma and XOMA. Novartis has licensed from Palobiofarma exclusive global development and commercialization rights to PBF-509, an adenosine A2A receptor antagonist currently in Phase I clinical trials for non-small cell lung cancer.

By stimulating A2A receptors, adenosine can stop T cells within the immune system from proliferating and can reduce their ability to destroy cancer cells. Blocking A2A receptors can therefore promote the anti-cancer response of T cells within the tumor microenvironment, Palobiofarma reasons.

Additionally, Novartis will get access to several adenosine-related patents from Palobiofarma related to the role of adenosine in immunotherapy, Palobiofarma said in a separate statement.

Novartis has agreed to pay Palobiofarma $15 million up front, with Palobiofarma also eligible for near-term payments tied to clinical, development, and commercial milestones on successful projects, as well up to double-digit tiered royalties on net sales.

Palobiofarma is a Spanish biotechnology company founded in 2006 and focused on the discovery and development of new medicines based on the modulation of the adenosine pathways. Three of the most well-known Spanish venture capital firms have invested in the company: Inverready, Fitalent, and Sodena.

“This agreement represents one of the best agreements ever signed in the history of the Spanish Biotechnology, and we are very proud of it. We have good reasons to believe that the current agreement is just the start of a successful research and development collaboration between the two companies,” Palobiofarma CEO Julio Castro said in a statement.

Earlier this month, XOMA said it had licensed to Novartis global development and commercialization rights to its anti-transforming growth factor-beta antibody program, in a deal that could generate up to $517 million-plus for XOMA. That sum includes the $37 million that XOMA will receive up front, and up to $480 million in payments tied to achieving development, regulatory, and commercial milestones. In addition, on October 1, XOMA said that it is eligible to receive royalties on product sales that range from the mid-single digits to the low double digits.

The Admune, Palobiofarma, and XOMA candidates will be studied for their ability to fight cancer as monotherapies and in combination with therapies in Novartis' immuno-oncology and targeted therapy portfolios, Novartis added.

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