Celgene hands PD-1 tislelizumab med back to BeiGene, forfeiting $150M

BeiGene expected Celgene to pull out of the tislelizumab deal ahead of the latter's merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb. (Steve Buissinne/Pixabay)

Barely two years after forking over $263 million up front for the ex-Asia rights to BeiGene’s PD-1 drug tislelizumab, Celgene is bowing out—and paying a $150 million termination fee to do it. 

The deal, inked in July 2017, gave Celgene the exclusive rights to develop tislelizumab for solid tumors and sell it in markets outside of Asia and Japan. BeiGene held onto the rights to develop the drug for solid tumors in Asian countries—excluding Japan—as well as the global rights to develop it for blood diseases. 

The move comes as Celgene’s $74 billion buyout by Bristol-Myers Squibb is all but a done deal. And it wasn’t unexpected. 

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Speaking about its pact with Celgene, BeiGene Chief Advisor Eric Hedrick, M.D., told FiercePharma earlier this year that there’s a stipulation in the contract that indicates "that they basically can’t hold two PD-1-class assets.” 

BMS wasn’t going to give up its blockbuster Opdivoto hold onto tislelizumab. “We fully expect that the rights to our PD-1 inhibitor globally will be transferred back to us,” Hedrick said. 

At the time, Hedrick said taking back the rights to tislelizumab would have a “marginal” effect on clinical development and only a “modest” financial hit. BeiGene has grown from the small company that struck the initial deal with Celgene and reckons it’s in a good spot to advance tislelizumab solo. 

“Our collaboration with Celgene was instrumental for the late-stage clinical development of tislelizumab and has provided us with significant resources to continue our broad clinical program,” said BeiGene CEO John Oyler, Co-Founder, in a statement. “As we have been leading most of the ongoing Phase 3 or potentially registration-enabling trials with a global development organization of over 800 people, we believe that we are well-positioned to continue the development of tislelizumab. 

RELATED: Hey, naysayers: Bristol-Myers' Celgene buy just chalked up another point in its favor 

BeiGene is running 90% of the registrational trials for tislelizumab, so “the operational impact for us is negligible,” Hedrick said, adding that the company doesn’t expect any major hiring or organizational changes. The only major study conducted by Celgene is testing tislelizumab alongside chemo and radiation as a post-surgery treatment for locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer. 

The 2017 agreement saw BeiGene acquiring Celgene’s commercial operations in China and a license to Celgene’s cancer stable in China: Abraxane, Revlimid and Vidaza. The Celgene-BMS merger won’t affect this side of the deal, BeiGene said in the statement.

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