Celgene Pays Anokion $45M for Autoimmune Research, Option to Buy

Xconomy New York — 

Celgene hasn’t been afraid to strike deals with early stage biotech companies and the Summit, NJ-based drug developer is at it again, this time entering a research partnership with Anokion in autoimmune diseases.

Under the deal announced Monday, Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) is paying Anokion $45 million up front. Anokion, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland and has laboratories in Cambridge, MA, stands to gain an additional $10 million if the company hits pre-clinical milestones. The deal also gives Celgene an equity stake in Anokion—the companies aren’t saying how much—plus the exclusive right to buy the biotech at a pre-specified but undisclosed point. In the meantime, Anokion will keep control of its research and development programs.

Anokion’s research focuses on immune tolerance, the process in which the immune system learns to recognize the proteins of invading agents, such as bacteria or viruses. The therapeutic proteins in biological drugs can be perceived by the body as foreign, marking them for attack by the immune system, Anokion explains on its website. The company says its technology can engineer therapeutic proteins so that the immune system sees them as part of the body, reducing the chance of an immune response.

This approach of modifying therapeutic proteins is called antigen-specific immune tolerance. Anokion says its platform technology has potential applications in a wide range of autoimmune and allergic diseases. In another research program, Anokion is developing the technology for applications in liver cells. But it’s still early days as Anokion has yet to test its approach in humans. Celgene is partnering with Anokion through its Switzerland-based subsidiary.

Anokion was spun out of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. In 2014, the company closed a Series A round raising $37.5 million. Investors in the company include Versant Ventures, Novo Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund, and a group of individual investors.

T cell image by Flickr user NIAID via a Creative Commons license.