After IPO, BioNTech nabs cell therapy startup Neon Therapeutics

BioNTech's headquarters
BioNTech's headquarters (BioNTech)

There’s been a deal at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, but probably not with the largest names and certainly not big bucks.

The acquirer is Germany’s BioNTech, which has gotten off some monster raises and a middling $150 million IPO late last year and is paying just $67 million in an all-stock deal (around double its market cap as of yesterday, but much less than its IPO) to snap up Neon Therapeutics and its early-stage T-cell work.

Once subsumed, Neon will work as a subsidiary of BioNTech and help boost its internal work on immunotherapies against cancer and other diseases.

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“This acquisition fits with our strategy to expand our capabilities and build our presence in the U.S. and further strengthens our immunotherapy pipeline,” said Ugur Sahin, M.D., co-founder and CEO of BioNTech. “I am particularly excited about the adoptive T cell and neoantigen TCR therapies being developed by Neon, which are complementary to our pipeline and our focus on solid tumors.”

Germany’s BioNTech began life focused on mRNA, putting it in similar territory to Moderna, but it has branched out in recent years by building a pipeline of assets spanning multiple modalities including cell therapies and antibodies. Along the way, BioNTech has raised vast sums of money in private rounds, some of it from a growing list of Big Pharma partners including Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Sanofi.

Last year, BioNTech decided it wanted to add public investors. Through the $150 million IPO, BioNTech said it plans to add money to fund development of three wholly owned off-the-shelf shared antigen immunotherapies that are already in the clinic in advanced melanoma, head and neck cancer and triple-negative breast cancer. This also appears to include adding to its own pipeline with the Neon buyout.

“We are very proud of all we have accomplished since we founded Neon and look forward to joining forces with BioNTech to continue to build a business that provides life-changing immunotherapy products to patients battling a variety of cancers,” added Hugh O'Dowd, chief of Neon.

Neon, a 2016 FierceBiotech Fierce 15 winner, had data out last summer showing its personalized neoantigen vaccine NT-001, when coupled with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo, kept cancer at bay longer than Opdivo alone in patients with lung cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma in a phase 1b study.

Neon sequences patients' tumors to identify neoantigens. Its program, NEO-PV-01, is made using synthetic peptides that mimic neoantigens found in each patient’s tumor cells. The idea is to direct the immune system to these targets to stimulate an immune attack against cancer in a targeted way while leaving normal, healthy tissues alone.

It’s also working on other early projects, including NEO-STC-01, a T-cell therapy candidate targeting shared RAS neoantigens.

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The deal will see GSK pay $50 million and commit to $550 million in milestones for TCRs against two solid tumor targets identified by Immatics.