Ambit strikes $390M deal with Astellas for lead drug

After nine years of work, Ambit Biosciences has forged a $390 million development deal with Japan's Astellas for its lead cancer therapy. The pact includes $40 million upfront for Ambit, which recently launched a pivotal trial for AC220, an experimental FLT3 kinase inhibitor that has demonstrated early promise as a treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.

In the years since it was founded in 2000, San Diego-based Ambit has been able to raise tens of millions of dollars by providing kinase screening services to pharma companies. But its investors have been most excited about Ambit's lead therapy. About a year ago, Ambit announced at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology that 16 of 54 patients with acute, relapsed myeloid leukemia had their tumors shrink during treatment.

"We believe that AC220, as the most selective and advanced FLT3 kinase inhibitor, has the potential to provide a new treatment option for AML where high unmet medical needs exist," said Astellas CEO Masafumi Nogimori. "Astellas is strongly committed to focus on oncology and this partnership is a significant milestone to establish our franchise in oncology."

The two companies say they will collaborate to develop AC220 for AML and other indications while pursuing a research and development program for a series of novel FLT3 inhibitors. The companies will split expenses for the development of AC220 and any additional products in the U.S. and Europe, while Astellas will fund development in all other regions.

- here's the companies' announcement