Celgene drops $2.6B Jounce pact, bags rights to macrophage drug

Investors responded to the news Celgene has restructured its alliance with Jounce Therapeutics by driving Jounce’s stock up more than 30%. (Celgene)

Celgene has restructured its alliance with Jounce Therapeutics, dropping the broad $2.6 billion pact it formed in 2016 while securing full rights to a single asset. The changes cut Celgene’s ties to ICOS and PD-1 programs that overlap with those in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s pipeline and portfolio.

With Bristol-Myers entering the final leg of its acquisition of Celgene, the big biotech will likely soon be part of a broader organization that has a phase 1/2 anti-ICOS agonist, BMS-986226, and approved PD-1 inhibitor, Opdivo. That means Jounce’s anti-ICOS agonist JTX-2011 and PD-1 inhibitor JTX-4014 may be of less interest to Celgene today than when it struck the $2.6 billion pact covering the assets.

Celgene has terminated the original deal, resulting in Jounce regaining the full rights to the assets. Jounce expects to identify the recommended phase 2 dose of checkpoint inhibitor JTX-4014 by the end of the year and post preliminary phase 2 efficacy data on JTX-2011 in 2020.  

The old deal has been replaced by an agreement covering JTX-8064, an antibody that targets the LILRB2 receptor found on macrophages. Celgene is paying $50 million for the worldwide rights to the preclinical drug. Jounce is also in line to receive up to $480 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments. Celgene is set to advance JTX-8064 toward an IND filing. 

Investors responded to the news by driving Jounce’s stock up more than 30%. The gains go a small way toward reversing the decline suffered by Jounce over the past a year or so. In March 2018, Jounce traded above $26. Prior to news of the revised Celgene deal, the stock languished around the $4 mark.  

Jounce’s ability to maintain the upward momentum generated by the revised Celgene deal will rest on JTX-2011 and JTX-4014. The biotech now owns the full rights to those clinical-phase cancer assets, setting it up to realize more value from them through internal development or another deal. But to do so, Jounce will need to generate encouraging data on assets that have underwhelmed in the past.