Celgene buys EngMab for $600M and will head into clinic next year

Celgene ($CELG) has bought out Swiss biotech EngMab as the Big Biotech looks to broaden its research arsenal into blood cancers.

In a brief update on its website, EngMab said that it is “proud to announce that it is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Celgene Corporation.” Rumors about the deal had been growing over the past month.

The fledgling upstart, which only started life back in 2013, focuses on T-cell bispecific antibodies (TCBs) that bind simultaneously to a target on a tumor cell and to the T-cell receptor complex, leading to killing of the malignant cell.

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This deal is set to complement Celgene’s CAR-T pact with bluebird bio ($BLUE) that also focuses on myeloma through its BCMA platform.

A spokesman for Celgene told FierceBiotech: “We are acquiring Engmab for $600 million. B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) is highly and selectively expressed on the surface of malignant plasma cells in MM and target of high value for immune based therapies such as re-engineered autologous T-CAR-T and the re-direction of CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes via anti-CD3 bi-specific  antibodies.

“Through this acquisition, Celgene is now uniquely positioned to pursue BCMA development opportunities using both CAR-T and CD-3- redirected killing platforms. Both approaches and assets provide the opportunity for best in class assets.

“We see both this and the Bluebird BCMA platform as highly complementary with the potential to be curative.  In addition to mono-therapy in Myeloma patients, both platforms provide the opportunity for rational combination therapies with CELMods and Checkpoint inhibitors in order to further improve treatment efficacy, as well as clinical development in other BCMA expressing B-cell malignancies such as lymphoma.”

At its R&D day, Celgene CEO Mark Alles said he had “closed on a transaction with … EngMab.”

He added: “This company is developing a bispecific antibody for and against the BCMA target. This is quite complementary to our work with bluebird bio and CAR-T therapy once again directed at the protein, the antigen known as B-Cell Maturation Antigen.

“The IND for this molecule, which is a bispecific antibody, it targets of course the antigen BCMA and CD3 to allow for the T-cell to do most of the cytotoxic and mediated killing, but we should be in the clinic in late next year. So, we will look to have the IND complete and the clinical work to begin on the molecule, sometime later in 2017.”

All three companies are seeking to create next-gen forms of Celgene’s already marketed blockbuster meds in this therapy area, including Revlimid (lenalidomide) and Pomalyst (pomalidomide), and potentially find a cure to the disease.