Celgene will use Zymeworks’ Azymetric™ platform under a collaboration by the companies to research, develop, and commercialize new bi-specific antibody therapeutics.

The deal, announced today by Zymeworks, could net that company up to $164 million per therapeutic candidate that reaches the market, tied to achieving clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestones. Zymeworks will also receive an initial upfront payment and an equity investment from Celgene, both undisclosed, as well as royalties on worldwide net sales.

In return, Celgene will have the option to advance the “multiple” bi-specific candidates Zymeworks said would be generated via the collaboration through clinical development and subsequent commercialization.

“Bi-specific” antibodies resemble conventional mono-specific antibodies, but can simultaneously bind to two different targets—a property that, according to Zymeworks, results in additive or synergistic therapeutic responses. Antibodies generated via the Azymetric platform spontaneously assemble into a single molecule with two different Fab domains comprising unique heavy and light chain pairings.

“We believe that the upfront revenue from this collaboration, in combination with Celgene’s meaningful equity investment and the proceeds from our recent financing rounds, will help accelerate Zymeworks’ internal oncology pipeline candidates towards multiple INDs in 2016 and beyond,” Ali Tehrani, Ph.D., president and CEO of Zymeworks, said in a statement.

Dr. Terhani referred to the C$4 million (about $3.3 million) investment in the company made by The Fonds de solidarité FTQ, a Québec-based development capital fund, and announced on December 19.

He added that the biotherapeutics to be generated through the collaboration with Celgene “has the potential to create game-changing treatment options for patients with unmet medical needs.”

Celgene joins two pharma giants in establishing partnerships with Zymeworks based on the Azymetric platform. Eli Lilly is using the platform toward development of bi-specific antibodies against multiple Lilly targets for immunotherapy and other applications. Lilly has agreed to pay Zymeworks up to $375 million in milestones and other payments, plus tiered sales royalties. Zymeworks also received an initial upfront payment in the form of an equity investment.

Merck & Co. is using the platform under a collaboration launched with Zymeworks in 2011, and expanded in December 2014, to develop bi-specific antibodies against undisclosed therapeutic targets. Both companies agreed to advance the technology platform and antibody candidates in preclinical development, with Merck responsible for clinical development and commercialization.

In addition to bi-specific antibodies, Zymeworks is also developing antibody-drug conjugates for the treatment of oncology, autoimmunity, and inflammatory diseases.

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