Gilead Adds Jounce to its Long List of Oncology Partnerships
On 1st September, Gilead Sciences announced a strategic collaboration with Jounce Therapeutics to grab an exclusive license agreement for a novel immunotherapy program.
By Ruchi Jhonsa, Ph.D.
Founded with a primary focus on antiviral medications, Gilead Sciences has seen tremendous growth and branching in its drug portfolio over the years. While Gilead’s expansion in respiratory and cardiovascular indications was happening for years, its journey with oncology indication is relatively recent. It began with the company acquiring Arresto Biosciences for its developmental-stage research treating fibrotic disease and cancer. Since then, Gilead has made several strategic partnerships and acquisitions to deepen its oncology portfolio. The latest is a strategic partnership with Jounce Therapeutics.
On 1st September, Gilead announced a strategic collaboration with Jounce, which is known for its novel cancer immunotherapies. The agreement gives exclusive license to Gilead for Jounces’ JTX-1811 program that selectively depletes immunosuppressive tumor-infiltrating T regulatory cells in the tumors, potentially making checkpoint blockade therapies more effective.
The partnership aligns with Gilead’s vision in oncology and complements its existing oncology programs. In a statement, William A. Lee, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of Research at Gilead Sciences, said, “JTX-1811 is complementary to our other oncology candidates and has the potential to be first in a new class of therapies as a treatment for people with both solid tumors and hematological malignancies.
T regulatory cells are an immunosuppressive subset of T cells that play an essential role in self-tolerance. In simple terms, it protects the immune system from attacking its own cells. While this is important to prevent auto-immunity, it also relives cancer cells from immune recognition, making cancer fierce and malignant. A large number of T regs are present within the tumor known as tumor-infiltrating T regs (TITRs), where they suppress the anti-tumor activity of the immune system. For a long time, researchers have been trying to develop therapeutic strategies that would deplete TITRs in the tumor microenvironment, thereby making cancer recognition more effective.
Scientists at Jounce have identified a highly specific protein signature on TITRs called CCR8, which is present ubiquitously on TITRs in multiple tumor types. Based on this discovery, the company developed the JTX-1811 program that consists of a monoclonal antibody that specifically binds to CCR8 protein signature and mediates antibody-dependent cell-mediated death of target cells expressing CCR8. According to the data presented at AACR virtual annual conference in June, the antibody spared Tregs circulating in the blood, but killed Tregs in the tumor, essentially making the tumor more immune responsive.
Terms of Partnership
For JTX-1811’s license, Jounce will receive $85 million upfront and an additional $685 million in milestone payments tied to the progress of the drug. If the drug reaches the market, Gilead will pay Jounce royalties from worldwide sales. However, it is still a long way for the drug, which is still in preclinical stages. While the drug is in its initial stages, its research and development responsibility lies with Jounce, which will monitor its preclinical development and make the drug clinical trial-ready. Following this, Gilead will take the drug through the clinical trials and perform all the necessary regulatory work related to the drug.
Gilead’s Vision in Oncology
Gilead’s long list of oncology partnerships and acquisitions says a lot about the company’s vision to become a leader in oncology therapeutics in the future. It acquired Forty Seven inc. this March to gain immunotherapies that block cancer protein CD47. Subsequently, it landed equity stakes and options to acquire a pair of cancer immunotherapy developers: Pionyr Immunotherapeutics and Tizona Therapeutics this summer. It also entered a 10-year partnership with Arcus Biosciences to commercialize the latter’s immuno-oncology portfolio. While these partnerships are yet to yield profits, it certainly gets closer to its long-term vision.
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