Celgene pens pact to join Bristol-Myers, Pfizer in R&D race

Celgene
Celgene can trigger its buy-in option after getting a look at Nimbus' clinical trial data.

Celgene has secured an option on two preclinical assets in development at Nimbus Therapeutics. The deal gives Celgene a chance to move into the slipstreams of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer in the race to bring a TYK2 inhibitor to market.

TYK2 has attracted the interest of multiple major research groups on the strength of its role in the inflammatory response. Bristol-Myers has advanced its shot at the target, BMS-986165, into phase 2 trials in lupus and psoriasis. Pfizer is testing its TYK2-JAK1 kinase inhibitor, PF-06700841, in three phase 2 trials, which are enrolling patients with alopecia areata, ulcerative colitis and psoriasis.

Nimbus’ program has ceded a sizable head start to these drugs, but Celgene has seen enough in the preclinical data to suggest it can come from behind. That confidence is based, in part, on evidence Nimbus’ inhibitors are particularly selective for TYK2, enabling them to hit the target but not its JAK siblings.  

The importance of TYK2 means there are plenty of opportunities to go around, too. A TYK2 inhibitor could treat autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, as well as the indications being pursued in the clinic by Bristol-Myers and Pfizer. 

“We are excited about the potential of the Nimbus immunology targets, which are based on compelling human genetic data,” Celgene R&D VP Robert Plenge, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. “Moreover, Nimbus’ robust in silico-based approach is very promising.”

That prompted the prolific dealmaker to put together an agreement that gives it an option to buy the program for an as-yet-undisclosed upfront payment and downstream milestones. The release of clinical trial data will trigger the buy-in decision on the TYK2 program and other assets covered by the deal. Nimbus is in charge of advancing the assets until Celgene exercises its option.

The second asset covered by the agreement is designed to block STING from activating the innate immune system in interferonopathies such as lupus. Nimbus’ agreement leaves it free to develop a small molecule agonist program with applications in immuno-oncology. 

That immuno-oncology program is the only publicly disclosed part of Nimbus’ pipeline that is not yet the subject of a deal. Gilead and Genentech have already picked off other parts of the pipeline through an acquisition and licensing deal, respectively.