Before attendees had even arrived at the hotly anticipated annual JP Morgan conference, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) kicked off dealmaking in style in early January by announcing its $74 billion acquisition of Celgene. The merger is set to create a major force in oncology by bringing together BMS’ extensive immuno-oncology (IO) pipeline and Celgene’s blood cancer portfolio, which includes potential CAR-T therapies gained in Celgene’s $9 billion purchase of Juno—one of last year’s biggest IO deals. Oncology dealmaking then made the headlines again a few days later as Lilly announced its $8 billion takeover of Loxo Oncology, a pioneer in the development of cancer drugs for tissue-agnostic indications.
Given Celgene’s prolific partnering history, concerns have been raised about the long-term impact of its departure from the biotech ecosystem. Nevertheless, Celgene continued dealmaking during January, paying Kyn Therapeutics $80 million upfront and undisclosed milestones for options to license two of its preclinical IO programs, targeting the aryl hydrocarbon receptor and kynurenine-degrading enzyme, respectively. On the same day the company also penned a preclinical collaboration with Obsidian Therapeutics to develop potential CAR-T cell therapy candidates incorporating its destabilizing domain technology, before finishing up the month with a potential $980 million deal with Triphase Accelerator for the option to license TRPH-395, a preclinical small molecule targeting WDR5 for blood cancers.
Elsewhere, dealmaking momentum in the gene therapy field continues to build following the recent pioneering product approvals, with a number of collaborations being announced in January. In the gene-editing field, Vertex regained some rights for two DNA-dependent protein kinase inhibitors that it licensed to Merck KGaA in 2017 in a $230 million deal focused on oncology. Under the undisclosed terms of the latest deal, Vertex will be able to use the two compounds for CRISPR-based gene editing applications in six genetic disease areas, whilst Merck KGaA will continue to develop the candidates in oncology.
Following this, in a deal potentially worth $1.8 billion— including a $165 million upfront payment —Neurocrine Biosciences acquired development and commercialization rights to four gene therapy programs from Voyager Therapeutics. The deal includes VY-AADC, a phase 2 asset for Parkinson’s disease, and VY-FXN01, which is in preclinical development for Friedreich’s ataxia. Both gene therapies are based on the adeno-associated virus vector (AAV) platform.
Wrapping January up, Janssen Pharmaceuticals teamed up with MeiraGTX to develop and commercialize AAV-based gene therapies for the treatment of inherited retinal diseases. Janssen will pay MeiraGTX $100 million upfront, and up to $340 million in potential milestones to gain commercialization rights to any developed candidates.