Roche has acquired Tusk Therapeutics for up to €655 million ($759 million), Tusk said, in a deal that expands the buyer’s oncology pipeline with two preclinical first-in-class antibodies set to advance into the clinic next year.

Based at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst in Stevenage, U.K., privately-held Tusk is a developer of immuno-oncology treatments focused on discovering and developing therapeutic antibodies.

Tusk is developing a first-in-class anti-CD25 antibody designed to deplete regulatory T-cells (Tregs) and based on the research of Sergio Quezada, Ph.D., group leader and Cancer Research UK Senior Research Fellow at University College London’s UCL Cancer Institute, who chairs the company’s Scientific Advisory Board.

At the 2018 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, held April 14-18 in Chicago, Tusk presented data in animal models showing that the antibody showed effective anticancer activity by depleting Tregs while preserving IL-2 binding and signaling on effector T cells (Teffs).

“We are delighted that Roche will further develop this novel antibody and drive the development ahead,” Tusk CEO Luc Dochez said in a statement.

Tusk is also developing an immunomodulatory anti-CD38 antibody directed against a novel epitope of the CD38 protein, for which the company won a £2.5 million (about $3.3 million) grant from Innovate UK’s Biomedical Catalyst Round 2 program last year. According to Tusk, initial applications of the anti-CD38 antibody have been developed “very successfully” for multiple myeloma, with the target's application being broadened into solid tumor indications.

Dochez added that Tusk’s remaining portfolio of its immuno-oncology targets will be developed by a new company to be spun out of Tusk, to be called Black Belt Therapeutics.

The company has collaborations and licensing agreements with UCL and Cancer Research Technology, the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK.

Tusk was founded in 2014 by its majority shareholder, Droia Oncology Ventures, an investment firm with more than $250 million under management and an investment focus on accelerating development of promising new cancer therapies. Operating from Luxembourg and Belgium, Droia invests globally with its portfolio companies split equally between Europe and the U.S.

Roche agreed to pay Tusk shareholders €70 million ($81 million) upfront, and up to €585 million (about $678 million) in payments tied to achieving unspecified milestones.

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