AbbVie axes Caribou CAR-T deal, continuing cascade of punted cancer pacts

AbbVie has decided it can do without Caribou Biosciences. The Big Pharma is terminating its off-the-shelf CAR-T pact with the biotech, depriving Caribou of the chance to pocket up to $350 million in milestones per program.

Caribou found out AbbVie is walking away from the alliance this week. According to the biotech, AbbVie’s decision to terminate the deal was based on its “strategic focus” and was unrelated to Caribou's performance or data generated so far. The action continues a busy period of partner pruning at AbbVie, which has axed alliances with Harpoon Therapeutics and I-Mab in the past two weeks. 

AbbVie partnered with Caribou early in 2021, when it paid $30 million upfront and invested $10 million in the biotech to collaborate on two CAR-T programs. Caribou framed the deal as external recognition of the potential of its Cas12a chRDNA technology to improve genome-editing specificity and efficiency.

Caribou was in line to receive up to $150 million in developmental, regulatory and commercialization milestones, plus up to $200 million in sales-based milestones, per program. AbbVie chose targets for two programs and reserved two additional targets, which it could substitute into the two initial programs or use in two additional programs under an expanded collaboration.

But rather than advance the programs, AbbVie has decided to terminate the deal and return all licenses to Caribou. The action leaves Caribou focused on an internal pipeline led by allogeneic CAR-T cell therapies against CD19 and BCMA. Both candidates are in the clinic and could provide an off-the-shelf alternative to existing cell therapies such as Gilead’s Yescarta and Johnson & Johnson’s Carvykti.

Pfizer stepped up to help fund the pipeline in July, investing $25 million in Caribou. The biotech earmarked the cash for clinical development of its allogeneic anti-BCMA CAR-T cell therapy, dubbed CB-011.