Celgene inks $1B deal for a preclinical epigenetic blood cancer drug from Canada

Celgene has signed on to a deal worth about $1 billion for a Canadian preclinical asset: a first-in-class small molecule that targets protein-protein interactions and epigenetic regulation in leukemia and lymphoma.

The Big Biotech will pay $40 million upfront for the option to license TRPH-395, while committing to an additional $940 million or more in future R&D and sales milestone payments to Triphase Accelerator, a drug development company that looks to bring the compound through phase 2 proof of concept.

Discovered by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), TRPH-395 aims to inhibit interactions with the WDR5 protein, to induce wider epigenetic modification of histones and disrupt the histone methylation that can support different cancers.

While the drug is currently in late lead optimization, according to Triphase, preclinical data has shown broad activity across a range of cancer cell lines, including in both solid and blood tumors.

Spun out from the OICR, Triphase has been supported by the institute’s commercialization partner, FACIT, which had originally seeded Propellon Therapeutics to develop the drug and advance the WDR5 platform. Propellon and FACIT later transferred the program over to Triphase for clinical development. Triphase and FACIT describe the deal as the largest transaction to date for a Canadian-discovered preclinical asset, following multiple formal offers from companies in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

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But this isn’t Celgene’s first deal with Triphase. In November 2016, it acquired the accelerator’s proteasome inhibitor marizomib, which is currently being developed in brain cancer, for an undisclosed sum and maintains an ongoing partnership. Triphase has been supporting its clinical development, including a phase 2 study in recurrent glioma and a phase 1 study in newly diagnosed glioma, while marizomib is also being evaluated by Celgene in a phase 3 combination trial with Temodar and radiotherapy in late-stage malignant glioblastoma.