Amgen is paying Molecular Partners $50 million (€44 million) upfront for global rights to preclinical anti-cancer immune cell activator MP0310. The partners will test the 4-1BB-FAP bispecific molecule in combination with Amgen drugs including its bispecific T-cell engagers.
Antibodies targeting T cell co-stimulatory receptor 4-1BB, also known as CD137, have hit tumors hard in animal models, but the field has been hampered by hepatotoxicity and struggles to translate the efficacy seen in preclinical into the clinic. Molecular Partners responded to the highs and lows of 4-1BB drug development by developing a drug designed to hit the target and FAP simultaneously.
As FAP is expressed by many solid tumors, Molecular Partners figured a drug that bound to both it and T cell receptor 4-1BB could trigger a strong, localized immune response, leading to the destruction of the cancer and minimal side effects.
Having presented preclinical data supporting its hypothesis earlier this year, Molecular Partners has landed a deal with Amgen, a pioneer in anti-cancer bispecifics. The agreement sees Amgen pay $50 million upfront and commit to up to $497 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestones to bag the global rights to MP0310.
Molecular Partners thinks MP0310 will be ready for human testing next year, at which point it and Amgen will start co-funding a clinical development strategy that is expected to cover multiple cancers and drug combinations. Amgen, the first company to win approval for a bispecific antibody, has multiple bispecific T cell engagers and other assets it thinks may complement MP0310.
Amgen and Molecular Partners will split the cost of clinical development in the first three indications at a predefined ratio. Beyond that, Amgen will cover all the costs. The deal allows Molecular Partners to retain certain rights to develop and commercialize MP0310 in combination with its other pipeline prospects.