Bluebird adds targets, $500M in milestones to Medigene TCR pact

Cell sorting research at Medigene. (Medigene)(Image: Medigene)

Bluebird bio has added two targets and up to €417 million ($500 million) in milestones to its T-cell receptor (TCR) collaboration with Medigene. The expanded deal tasks Medigene with applying its TCR technology platform to additional target antigens of interest to Bluebird.

Medigene began working with Bluebird in 2016, at which point the partnership covered four targets worth up to $250 million each in milestones. Bluebird entered into the alliance to access the fruits of technology designed to generate highly-active TCRs and thereby strengthen its immuno-oncology pipeline. Twenty months later, Bluebird has seen enough to justify broadening the agreement.

The revised deal, like the original, is heavily backloaded. Medigene is pocketing $8 million upfront this time around. But it could go on to reel in $500 million more if both the two new targets go the distance. That puts the hypothetical total value of the deal at just north of $1.5 billion.

In return for the commitment, Bluebird has gained a shot at drugging targets that are beyond the reach of other modalities in its pipeline.

“We value Medigene's TCR technology platform, which enables us to tackle intracellular tumor antigens not addressable by CAR-Ts," Bluebird CSO Philip Gregory, Ph.D., said in a statement. "Our expanded collaboration will help us broaden our pipeline of TCR lead candidates for potential future clinical development."
Medigene will handle the discovery of the TCRs before them passing off to Bluebird, which will manage all preclinical and clinical development. Bluebird will hold exclusive licenses for the TCRs.

The backloaded nature of the deal means the near-term financial impact on Medigene is slight. But the original and revised deals are nonetheless landmarks in the German biotech’s attempt to position itself as a TCR specialist.