Jazz Pharma, ImmunoGen Strike Up Drug Pact in Leukemia and More

Xconomy Boston — 

ImmunoGen has yet to bring one of its own antibody cancer drugs to market, but the Waltham, MA, company has had some success with its pharma partners. On Tuesday it added Jazz Pharmaceuticals to the mix.

Jazz (NASDAQ: JAZZ) is paying ImmunoGen $75 million in cash for rights to two early-stage ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN) drugs being developed for blood cancers. The deal also includes a third drug program that will be determined later, and ImmunoGen has an option to buy back partial rights to up to two of the drugs in the deal. Jazz will pay ImmunoGen as much as $100 million to support the programs over the term of the seven-year alliance.

ImmunoGen develops antibody drug conjugates (ADC), which hitch a cancer-killing payload to an antibody, an approach that is meant to deliver a targeted strike to tumors that spares healthy tissue. ADC’s have had their ups and downs in clinical testing, but three are now approved, most recently Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) drug inotuzumab ozogamacin (Besponsa), a treatment for a rare type of leukemia. ImmunoGen is responsible for one of the other approved ADCs, a breast cancer drug called ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla). Roche owns rights to that drug via a partnership with the company.

ImmunoGen has struggled to develop ADCs on its own. But ImmunoGen’s stock price jumped 18 percent to $7.64 per share following the news of the Jazz partnership.

The deal with Jazz includes IMGN779, an ADC for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) currently in Phase 1 testing; and IMGN632, an ADC that may be tested in several blood cancers, including AML, plastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, myelodysplastic syndrome, and B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. ImmunoGen plans to enroll its first patient in a human trial of IMGN632 by the end of this year.

ImmunoGen will cover the early development work on the three drug programs before Jazz can opt to take them further and pay the majority of the associated costs. The two companies would split the expenses for drug approvals sought in the U.S. and Europe. ImmunoGen would get unspecified downstream payments and royalties if the drugs are approved. It also has the right to co-commercialize one of the ADC drugs, and perhaps two, under unspecified “certain limited circumstances.” If that happens, ImmunoGen would forfeit U.S. milestone and royalty payments.

In a research note, RBC Capital Markets analyst Matthew Eckler wrote that the deal terms signal Jazz’s confidence in ImmunoGen’s drug platform. He added that agreement provides funding for the ImmunoGen’s earlier-stage compounds while allowing the company to focus on mirvetuximab soravtansine, a drug in Phase 3 trials for ovarian cancer.

ImmunoGen lists 11 compounds in development with 10 partners, among them Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), Novartis (NYSE: NVS), and Takeda Pharmaceutical. Its last partnership came in May when Switzerland-based Debiopharm International paid $25 million up front for rights to non-Hodgkin lymphoma drug candidate in Phase 2 testing.

Image of human cells with acute myeloid leukemia by the National Cancer Institute.