AbbVie axes I-Mab pact to exit fast-thinning race for CD47 space

AbbVie has put I-Mab out of its misery. More than a year after scrapping a pair of clinical trials, the Big Pharma has cut its ties to the anti-CD47 antibody lemzoparlimab altogether and deprived I-Mab of the chance to pocket up to $1.3 billion in milestones.

I-Mab granted AbbVie the ex-China rights to lemzoparlimab around the peak of the CD47 hype cycle, accepting an offer worth $180 million upfront and more than $1.7 billion in milestones just months after Gilead Sciences paid $4.9 billion upfront for Forty Seven. Subsequent events have taken a lot of the shine off the immuno-oncology target CD47, and AbbVie has backed away from lemzoparlimab in stages.

Last summer, AbbVie terminated a lemzoparlimab multiple myeloma trial and a study in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myelocytic leukemia in quick succession. The collaboration carried on under a tweaked deal, worth $1.3 billion in milestones, but no new trials started outside of China.

AbbVie wrote to I-Mab to terminate the license and collaboration agreement last week. According to I-Mab, the action “is based on the previous program discontinuation and AbbVie’s strategic decision.” I-Mab will regain full global rights to the program and keep hold of the $200 million, which includes the $180 million upfront, that AbbVie paid in the past. 

While AbbVie is walking away from lemzoparlimab, I-Mab continues to see a future for the candidate in China. The biotech began a Chinese phase 3 clinical trial in patients with newly diagnosed higher-risk myelodysplastic syndrome earlier this year, keeping it in the running to be the first company to bring a CD47 drug to market in the country. I-Mab is reviewing the data to inform other opportunities. 

The return of rights to I-Mab puts a CD47 candidate back in play for business development teams, but it is unclear whether an appetite for the asset persists. Four companies, including Gilead, were in talks about deals for Forty Seven’s CD47 asset magrolimab around the end of 2019, showing the breadth of interest in the mechanism at that time. Since then, a mix of safety signals and lackluster efficacy have raised doubts.