AstraZeneca, Compugen sign immuno-oncology deal 

AstraZeneca has struck an immuno-oncology deal with Compugen. The agreement gives the Big Pharma a source of bispecific and multispecific antibodies in return for $10 million upfront and up to $200 million in milestones. 

Israel’s Compugen has granted AstraZeneca’s MedImmune an exclusive license to develop bispecific and multispecific antibodies based on one of its pipeline programs. AstraZeneca will pay up to $200 million in milestones on the first product, with more to follow if it exercises its right to develop additional candidates derived from the Compugen program. AstraZeneca will pay all the R&D costs.

Further details of the program licensed by AstraZeneca have yet to emerge but Compugen’s activity in recent years provides some clues. Compugen sought to ride the immuno-oncology wave by working on 11 novel immune checkpoint targets and a similar number involving antibody-drug conjugates or tumor-associated macrophages.

With major biopharma firms scrambling to grab pieces of the emerging immuno-oncology landscape, investors had hoped Compugen would land deals that provided it with cash and validated its model. Such validation is particularly important as Compugen, citing competitive concerns, has said little publicly about the targets. 

However, the anticipated flow of deals never arrived. The situation worsened last year when the partner Compugen had landed—Bayer—handed back the rights to one target covered by its deal with the biotech, while continuing to advance another. Bayer took the action after data suggested the target had limited potential as an immune checkpoint. 

Now, Compugen can point to the AstraZeneca deal as evidence people outside of the company see value in at least one of its programs.

“This agreement with Compugen will support our abilities to generate novel immunotherapy targets which, coupled with MedImmune's expertise in antibody engineering, can advance our goal of delivering treatments to meaningfully improve the lives of cancer patients,” Ronald Herbst, VP of oncology research & development at MedImmune, said in a statement.

Shares in Compugen rose 13% in premarket trading.