Amgen strikes early-stage oncology, neuroscience R&D pact with Nuevolution

Amgen HQ

Amgen ($AMGN) has become the latest big-name drugmaker to strike a deal to access Nuevolution’s (STO:NUE) discovery platform. The Big Biopharma will work with Nuevolution to discover and develop oncology and neuroscience therapeutics, before going on to license promising programs in return for up to $410 million (€367 million) apiece in upfront and milestone payments.

Having inked the pact, Nuevolution will apply its drug discovery platform to the task of identifying cancer and neuroscience compounds of interest to Amgen. The platform adds DNA tags to billions of small molecules, exposes them to the target and isolates the hits. By sequencing the DNA tag, Nuevolution can deduce the structures of the hit compounds, at which stage the most promising candidates are fine-tuned ahead of final lead optimization.

Amgen sees the potential of the platform.

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“DNA-encoded screening platforms such as Nuevolution’s allow for rapid screening of billions of compounds to help bring important therapies to the clinic faster and with increased precision,” Amgen SVP Alexander Kamb said in a statement.

The deal continues a transformational period in the history of Nuevolution, which has been knocking around since 2000 but has only started to make a name for itself on the world stage in recent years.

Nuevolution’s emergence began with drug discovery pacts with Lexicon Pharmaceuticals ($LXRX) and Merck ($MRK) in 2008, the year after which it inked an R&D alliance with Novartis ($NVS) and a technology licensing agreement with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). Since then, Boehringer Ingelheim and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) have struck deals with Nuevolution, while Merck has licensed compounds resulting from its collaboration and Novartis has returned for a second deal.

The business development surge has given Nuevolution 15 deals, including re-ups with existing collaborators, that have generated SEK 395 million ($46 million) to date.

Among this flurry of activity, the Amgen deal stands out, in part because it is the most detailed look at the finances of an alliance Nuevolution has revealed to date. While heavily backloaded, the deal could deliver a series of significant paydays if one or more programs advances down the pipeline.

The hook up is also more collaborative than some of the other deals--notably the most recent Novartis agreement--with the Danish biotech taking full responsibility for early research before gradually handing off programs to Amgen as they approach preclinical development. Amgen has some flexibility in terms of when it licenses the programs.

In parallel to the business development surge of recent years, Nuevolution has stepped up its in-house R&D activity and gone public, pulling off a rare upsized IPO in a tricky period for European biotech listings late last year. The IPO brought in SEK 250 million to go with the money generated through the partnerships.

During the IPO roadshow Nuevolution in November 2015, talked up the prospect of striking up to two risk-sharing pacts and a similar number of licensing agreements. The Amgen deal is the first of those predicted deals, but, if things go to plan for Nuevolution it won’t be the last.

“We are able to do another collaboration with a similar structure,” Nuevolution CEO Alex Haahr Gouliaev told investors on a conference call to discuss the Amgen deal. The pact will affect other aspects of Nuevolution’s R&D priorities, though. “It will certainly affect the number of new programs Nuevolution can initiate on its own,” Gouliaev said.

Shares in Nuevolution rose 40% on the back of the Amgen deal.