Abbvie Places $2 Billion Bet on Flourishing Immunotherapy Area with this Oncology Partnership
By Rajaneesh K. Gopinath, Ph.D.
Evading the vigil of our immune system is a hallmark of cancer, and tumor cells achieves it through multiple mechanisms. Immunotherapy is the endeavor of employing or rather re-activating a patients’ immune system to detect and destruct cancer cells. It encompasses several approaches, namely, monoclonal antibodies, immune checkpoint inhibitors, CAR-T cell therapy, vaccines, immunomodulators, and T cell infusions. Among them, targeting the CD47 cell surface protein has been a growing area in the field. Last March, Gilead acquired Forty Seven for a whopping US$ 4.9 billion to get its hands on the latter’s anti-CD47 monoclonal antibody, Magrolimab.
CD47, which is also known as integrin-associated protein (IAP), is a widely expressed transmembrane glycoprotein that provides a “do not eat” signal by binding to immune cells and suppressing phagocytosis. It is expressed by several cancers and therefore is an attractive anti-cancer target. Anti-CD47 monoclonal antibodies act by blocking the CD47 binding and facilitates tumor killing by macrophages. However, these antibodies can cause severe adverse reactions such as anemia due to their unintended binding with RBCs.
On September 4th, Abbvie, an American biopharma headquartered in Chicago, announced that it had signed a global collaboration agreement with Shanghai-based I-Mab, a biopharma that develops novel biologics for immuno-oncology and autoimmune disease areas. Abbvie will license I-Mab’s anti-CD47 monoclonal antibody, lemzoparlimab (TJC4), for US$ 2 billion. This includes an upfront cash payment of US$ 180 million for the exclusive license and US$ 200 million, which will be paid as milestone payments of US$ 20 million following successful Phase 1 results. I-Mab will also receive US$ 1.74 billion as success-based milestone payments, where US$ 840 million will be paid post clinical development and regulatory approvals and the remainder, following commercial milestones.
“Cancer is the second-leading cause of death globally, and the need for novel cancer therapies has never been more acute. The addition of I-Mab’s novel CD47 programs complements our global clinical strategy in hematology and immuno-oncology,” said Thomas J. Hudson, M.D., senior vice president of R&D and chief scientific officer, AbbVie. “We have been impressed with what I-Mab has been able to accomplish in research and clinical development, and we look forward to working together to make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of patients globally.”
Lemzoparlimab, a leading candidate in I-Mab’s pipeline, is designed to minimize inherent binding to normal RBCs without compromising on anti-tumor activity. This is the drug’s point of differentiation from other anti-CD47 antibodies in development. Recent Phase 1 results have shown that the drug is well-tolerated as a single agent at a dose range of up to 30 mg/kg without any priming dose with no observation of severe hematologic adverse events.
“At the forefront of drug innovation, our goal at I-Mab has always been to bring transformational therapies to patients globally. This strategic collaboration reinforces I-Mab’s leading position in immuno-oncology and enables us to realize the full potential of our innovation,” said Jingwu Zang, M.D., Ph.D., Founder, Honorary Chairman and Director of I-Mab. “We are extremely proud to partner with AbbVie. By leveraging the combined development strength of our companies, we aim to speed lemzoparlimab to market for patients in need around the world.”
As per the terms, both companies will collaborate in the future to evaluate lemzoparlimab in multiple cancers. While AbbVie will take care of global supply, I-Mab would retain all rights to development and commercialization in mainland China, Macau, and Hong Kong. This partnership would also aid in the potential collaboration on future CD47-related therapeutic agents. Following the news of the deal, I-Mab’s shares increased to a record high in premarket trading on Friday.
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