Tizona Lands $105M from AbbVie in Cancer Drug R&D Alliance

Xconomy San Francisco — 

A cancer immunotherapy teed up for clinical trials by Tizona Therapeutics is now the centerpiece of a new partnership with AbbVie, which is paying the startup $105 million up front.

In addition to the cash paid to South San Francisco, CA-based Tizona, AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) said Thursday that it has made an equity investment in its partner. The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed.

Tizona develops drugs intended to inhibit the activity of enzymes on the surface of tumor cells that suppress the body’s immune response. The company’s lead drug, TTX-030, is a monocolonal antibiody that targets an enzyme called CD39. This enzyme is found both on tumors and on tumor infiltrating leukocytes, which are immune cells that have moved from the blood and into a tumor. Tizona says its drug blocks the activity of CD39, in a move hoped to restore and bolster the body’s immune response against tumors.

Under the deal terms, Tizona will be responsible for developing TTX-030 through Phase 1b testing. After that study is complete, AbbVie, which is headquartered in North Chicago, IL, has the exclusive option to take over development of the drug. The FDA has given the regulatory go-ahead for the clinical study, which the companies expect will start later this quarter.

Under the partnership, Tizona keeps an option to co-develop and co-promote the cancer drug in the U.S. The company is also eligible for milestone payments tied to the progress of the drug, and royalties from sales if AbbVie is able to bring it to the market.

Tizona is preparing its lead drug for clinical testing under a new CEO who is a veteran of cancer drug development. The company announced Thursday that Scott Clarke has left Roche, where he was global head of oncology partnering and head of Asia and emerging markets partnering, in order to lead Tizona.

Metastatic melanoma cells image by the National Cancer Institute