Avenzo, Merck KGaA and AbbVie each ink new deals to fortify cancer pipelines

Avenzo Therapeutics, Merck KGaA and AbbVie each inked new deals to top up their cancer pipelines, with the former two companies handing over a combined $85 million in upfront cash. 

Avenzo disclosed Thursday that it has locked arms with Allorion Therapeutics, snapping up ex-Greater China rights to the early-stage CDK2 blocker AVZO-021. The enzyme has been shown to hamper the impact of CDK4 or CDK6-targeting therapies in patients with HR-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer and can drive tumor development in other kinds of cancers, according to Avenzo. The med is currently in a phase 1 trial in patients with breast cancer and other patients with solid tumors. Avenzo can also tack on a preclinical asset from Allorion slated for IND submission in early 2025. 

In exchange, Avenzo is paying Allurion $40 million upfront with more than $1 billion in biobucks attached to milestones for both AVZO-021 and the preclinical program. The money comes from nearly $200 million in funds raised in the middle of 2023, thanks to the likes of Lilly Asia Ventures and SR One.

Avenzo is the latest venture from ex-Turning Point CEO Athena Countouriotis, M.D., who helped lead a $4.1 billion buyout from Bristol Myers Squibb in June 2022. 

Avenzo wasn’t the only biotech to hit the dealmaking trail, with Merck KGaA tacking on ex-US licensing rights to Inspirna’s phase 2 colorectal cancer med, ompenaclid. Inspirna has aimed the med specifically at patients with RAS-mutated, advanced forms of the cancer, showing at last year’s European Society for Medical Oncology annual meeting that the drug produced a 37% objective response rate in 30 evaluable patients. The median progression-free survival was 10.2 months in a slightly larger sample size of 41 patients.

The German pharma is paying $45 million upfront with an undisclosed amount of biobucks on the table. Merck also has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize the med in the U.S. alongside Inspirna. 

Last but certainly not least, AbbVie, fresh off its end-of-the-year shopping spree, is heading back to the deal well, this time for Umoja’s cell therapies. The top prize is licensing rights to Umoja’s lead in-situ candidate UB-VV111, currently in IND-enabling studies. The asset is the first test of Umoja’s in-vivo CAR-T, aiming to break some of the limitations associated with current autologous manufacturing processes. Umoja plans to ask regulators to enter a phase 1 trial in the first half of this year.

The second part of the deal is a larger discovery pact for up to four additional in-situ candidates, aimed at targets selected by AbbVie. All told, Umoja received both an undisclosed upfront payment and equity investment, with $1.4 billion in milestone payments available.