Anokion autoimmune pact rides out BMS-Celgene merger

People shaking hands across a desk that has computer and papers on it
Anokion will take care of preclinical and phase 1 development for the celiac and multiple sclerosis programs, with Bristol Myers Squibb picking up subsequent trials and commercial activities. (rawpixel/Pixabay)

Bristol Myers Squibb may have bounced Jounce Therapeutics from its roster of inherited partners, but it’s hanging onto Anokion, an autoimmune disease biotech Celgene teamed up with in 2016. The duo is expanding the deal to cover celiac disease as well as multiple sclerosis.

Under the initial agreement, Celgene forked over $45 million upfront with the promise of $10 million more if Anokion hit its preclinical goals. But the bigger part of the pact saw Celgene pick up equity in the Swiss biotech and the exclusive right to acquire it at “pre-specified option exercise points.”

At the time, Anokion, a spinout of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, was working on its antigen-specific immune tolerance platform that it hopes will lead to a series of treatments for several autoimmune indications, though it didn’t divulge which diseases it was working in. Its approach seeks to restore the body’s immune tolerance of self-antigens rather than suppress the immune system, which can lead to side effects like an increased risk of infection or cancer.

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RELATED: Celgene strikes possible takeover deal for in-demand Anokion

Now, in exchange for an undisclosed amendment fee, it’s adding its lead program, a celiac disease treatment dubbed KAN-101, to the deal. The partners are also developing ANK-700 for multiple sclerosis, which will join KAN-101 in the clinic by the end of the year.

“We are excited to expand our relationship with Bristol Myers Squibb, which underscores the substantial therapeutic opportunity we believe our programs hold for people with autoimmune diseases who lack disease-modifying treatments today,” said John Hohneker, M.D., president and CEO of Anokion. “Bristol Myers Squibb is an industry leader with significant capabilities across all phases of drug development. By expanding our agreement to encompass our celiac disease program, we are further ensuring that our novel discoveries have the resources needed to be fully prosecuted and reach as many patients as possible.”

RELATED: Pandion Therapeutics scores $80M to drive autoimmune programs through clinic

Anokion will take care of preclinical and phase 1 development for the celiac and MS programs, with Bristol Myers picking up subsequent trials and commercial activities, according to a statement. Anokion holds onto the rights of its Type 1 diabetes program and its earlier-stage pipeline.

RELATED: Pfizer licenses AnTolRx's immune tolerance nanomedicine for Type 1 diabetes

The deal update comes soon after BMS decided to hang onto a drug discovery partnership with Ubiquigent originally struck by Celgene. Other partners weren’t so lucky—in July 2019, Celgene ditched a $2.6 billion pact it had with Jounce, while securing full rights to a single asset. After the merger closed, however, BMS dropped that program, severing its last tie to the immuno-oncology biotech.

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