Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Bluebird Bio have struck a wide-ranging partnership to broaden the reach of their respective cancer immunotherapy work, inking a deal to develop multiple cell therapies together.
Regeneron (NASDAQ: REGN) develops antibody drugs, while Bluebird (NASDAQ: BLUE) is a gene and cell therapy specialist. In the deal, the two companies will work together over a five-year term to develop several CAR-T therapies, a type of cancer treatment through which immune cells are removed from a patient, genetically engineered to recognize and kill cancer cells, and infused back into the body.
Bluebird and Regeneron have selected six targets for development and will split the costs for the early research and development work involved. Once human trials begin, Regeneron can opt in to each program and equally share costs and potential profits. If Regeneron doesn’t opt in to a program, it can still get downstream payments and royalties if that therapy advances.
Regeneron is making a $100 million investment in Bluebird at $238.10 per share, a roughly 59 percent premium to Bluebird’s closing price on Friday, in the deal. Bluebird shares climbed about 7 percent, to $160 apiece, in pre-market trading Monday.
Regeneron is best known for the age-related macular degeneration treatment aflibercept (Eylea). But the company has developed several other antibody drugs that have now reached the market as well, like the cholesterol-lowering drug alirocumab (Praluent) and the eczema treatment dupilumab (Dupixent), and the white hot field of cancer immunotherapy is a clear area of focus going forward.
Regeneron is behind the major cancer immunotherapy players, like Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and Merck (NYSE: MRK). But the company and partner Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) have made a significant investment in immunotherapy nonetheless. Their first cancer treatment, cemiplimab, could soon be approved for certain skin cancers and is being tested in few other cancer types. Regeneron’s head of oncology Israel Lowy told Xconomy earlier this year the company’s plan was to be more precise than some competitors running hundreds of trials, and distinguish itself through combination regimens and different approaches. With the Bluebird alliance, cell therapies are now one of those approaches.
Bluebird, meanwhile, is closest to approval with a gene therapy—a one time, long-lasting treatment—for the blood disease beta-thalassemia. But the company is developing cancer treatments as well. It has two cell therapies for multiple myeloma in human testing that are both part of a partnership with Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). The deal gives Bluebird a boost to develop several more cancer therapies.
Through the deal, the companies hope to broaden the reach of cell therapy, which as of now is limited to just a few blood cancers. A number of developers are trying to overcome technical challenges to make cell therapies available for more common cancers.