Gilead has signed a $3.15 billion deal to use Sangamo Therapeutic’s zinc-finger nuclease technology for gene editing to develop a series of CAR-T therapies for various cancers, including ‘off-the-shelf’ treatments. Gilead will pay an upfront fee of $150 million, and Sangamo could be eligible to receive up to $3 billion in milestone payments based on the potential success of 10 or more products resulting from the collaboration. Gilead recently entered the burgeoning CAR-T field with its $11.9 billion acquisition of Kite Pharmaceuticals last year, through which it gained Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel)—one of the two pioneering CAR-T therapies to be approved by the FDA in 2017, along with Novartis’s Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel-T ).
Also in immuno-oncology, Merck & Co. announced that it was buying the Australian oncolytic virus specialist Viralytics for $394 million. Viralytics is already working with Merck on clinical trials evaluating one of its candidates Cavatak—which is based on a type of cold virus—with Merck’s checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
With the high-profile failures of amyloid-based approaches for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) recently, approaches targeting tau—another cardinal feature of AD—are attracting increasing interest. Last week, AbbVie signed a deal with Voyager Therapeutics to partner on a tau-targeted gene therapy program. Voyager will conduct preclinical development of vector-based tau antibodies using adeno-associated viral vectors, and support candidates selected by AbbVie through phase 1 development, for which it will receive an upfront cash payment of $69 million as well as up to $155 million in potential milestones. After phase I has been completed, AbbVie has an option to license the program and lead further clinical development and commercialization of candidates for tauopathies including AD, with Voyager being eligible to receive up to $895 million in development and regulatory milestones.
And finally, Takeda will collaborate with Wave Life Sciences in another neurodegeneration-related deal—worth up to $230 million, including an upfront fee of $110 million—to develop antisense oligonucleotides to treat Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia and spinocerebellar ataxia type 3. The potential of oligonucleotides to halt the production of disease-causing proteins has spurred a string of recent deals, and last week also saw another deal that involved one of the pioneers in the area, Ionis Pharmaceuticals. Building on their existing collaboration with Ionis, AstraZeneca has signed a $330 million licensing deal (including $30 million upfront) to develop IONIS-AZ5-2.5Rx (also known as AZD2373), which is designed to inhibit an undisclosed target to treat a genetically associated form of kidney disease.