AstraZeneca pays $19M to Harbour BioMed's Nona for preclinical cancer antibodies

Days after AstraZeneca set out how new oncology drugs would help fuel its “bold” ambition to almost double its revenue by the end of the decade, the Big Pharma has further swelled this pipeline via a deal with Harbour BioMed subsidiary Nona Biosciences.

In exchange for preclinical monoclonal antibodies, the Massachusetts-based biotech will receive $19 million upfront, with a $10 million near-term payment down the line and potentially another $575 million in biobucks, as well as tiered royalties on any net sales.

The antibodies, which will be generated by Nona’s so-called “Harbour Mice” technology, will be used to create targeted oncology therapies, according to the post-market May 22 release. Nona’s approach uses mice and can produce heavy chain only antibodies, a class of molecules that are found naturally in some species and have novel properties that have attracted researchers.

Nona’s chairman Jingsong Wang, M.D., Ph.D., said yesterday’s deal “further validates our leading antibody discovery platform, and we look forward to seeing our antibodies developed into potential new medicines for cancer patients.”

"We are delighted to announce this agreement with AstraZeneca, global leaders in developing tumor targeted therapies, to maximize the potential of our novel antibodies," he added in the release.

The release was light on details and didn’t offer many clues as to the exact cancer targets the newly licensed antibodies would be focused on nor how many would be included in the deal. However, it did allude to AstraZeneca’s ability to pay Nona more money if the Big Pharma chooses to option further programs.

"The global license agreement with Nona Biosciences is an exciting opportunity to further develop these antibodies derived from Nona's innovative biologics discovery engine into novel tumor targeted therapies using AstraZeneca's industry-leading capabilities," Puja Sapra, Ph.D., senior vice president, tumor targeted delivery, oncology R&D at AstraZeneca, said in the release.

AstraZeneca has built itself into an oncology powerhouse, increasing its sales of cancer drugs by 20% in 2023 alone. The growth is expected to continue, with the company using an investors' day Tuesday to point to several cancer programs in phase 3 during its presentation, including candidates for prostate (saruparib), breast (camizestrant, Dato-DXd) and lung (rilvegostomig, volrustomig) cancers.

Nona, which is owned by Chinese antibody specialist Harbour BioMed, has attracted attention from other Big Pharmas in the past. Moderna has struck a couple of deals over the years, while in December 2023 Pfizer handed over $53 million for a mesothelin-targeted antibody-drug conjugate.