Seattle biotech company Kineta continues to expand its roster of drug development partners, announcing on Monday it has entered into a collaboration and licensing agreement with Pfizer to develop therapies that use the body’s disease-fighting capabilities to attack cancerous tumors.
Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) will pay Kineta $15 million upfront for the exclusive rights to therapies and technologies developed by Kineta, the company says. The assets Pfizer is licensing the rights to include Kineta’s lead screening program for testing immunogenicity, which is the ability of a substance to prompt an immune response. Depending on the progress of drugs developed using Kineta’s technologies, the biotech could receive up to $505 million in milestone payments from Pfizer, plus royalties from sales if one or more drugs from the alliance reach the market.
The tie-up between Pfizer and Kineta follows the company’s announcement in April that it was partnering with Genentech to develop select Kineta antagonists to treat chronic pain.
Both the Pfizer and Genentech deals highlight Kineta’s approach, which involves trying to turn profits faster by focusing on early-stage trials that can be licensed to larger players for further development.
In addition to raising money from its drug development partners, Kineta has over the years brought in funding from less conventional sources, including an undisclosed sum from a group of oil traders in 2013. Kineta was the first company picked to receive an investment via the crowdfunding site AngelMD.
Under the terms of Kineta’s collaboration and licensing agreement with Pfizer, the two companies will develop and test small-molecule substances that target a pathway capable of triggering an immune response and killing cancer cells, Kineta says. This pathway, called RIG-I, is different from other targeted immunotherapies in part because “its compounds are small-molecule drugs with the potential for oral and systemic administration,” Kineta says. Kineta’s RIG-I research will be funded by Pfizer for the first three years of the partnership. The pharmaceutical giant will be responsible for further development of any drug candidates that emerge from the partnership, as well commercialization of any approved products.
Kineta says that in preclinical testing, some of these RIG-I substances, or agonists, “have demonstrated complete tumor regression” and an increase in T cells, a type of white blood cells capable of directly killing certain viruses and cancers.
Kineta says therapies developed using its screening platform have also been shown to be effective when used in tandem with other drugs, including ones that belong to a class of cancer immunotherapies called checkpoint inhibitors.
“Kineta has taken a promising, differentiated approach to the discovery of RIG-I agonists, and we are looking forward to collaborating with Kineta and jointly developing these RIG-I-targeted agents into medicines with potentially unique immune-stimulating properties,” says Robert Abraham, senior vice president at Pfizer, in a prepared statement.