Celgene pays Evotec $65M to access source of solid tumor drugs

Celgene will pay Evotec “significant” but undisclosed milestones as the programs advance. (Celgene)

Celgene is paying $65 million upfront to secure an option on cancer drugs discovered by Evotec. The strategic partnership tasks Evotec with applying its R&D toolkit to the discovery of solid tumor drugs that Celgene will then pick up and advance.

Evotec, a German drug discovery shop, has built up a phenotypic screening platform, compound libraries and target deconvolution capabilities to support its biopharma customers. The assets and other aspects of Evotec’s offering have established it as a go-to partner for companies looking for help with drug discovery, while also enabling it to gain a stake in a slew of pipeline prospects.

Celgene came knocking late in 2016 to support its expansion into neurodegenerative diseases. Now, the big biotech has again turned to Evotec as it seeks to secure the future of its core oncology unit. The partnership will initially focus on solid tumors, not Celgene’s traditional hematological heartland.

The deal gives Celgene the exclusive option on worldwide licenses of drugs discovered by Evotec in the partnership. Celgene will pay “significant” though undisclosed milestones as the programs advance.

Given the size of the solid tumor market, the potential milestones may total hundreds of millions. But the early-stage nature of the work means Evotec may only receive a fraction of what is on offer. 

What Evotec definitely has gained is $65 million and another big-name partnership to add to its flourishing roster. 

“We are extremely pleased and encouraged about the opportunity to enter into a second major alliance with our colleagues at Celgene. Our first alliance in neurodegenerative diseases has already proven that both companies and teams are united by the same spirit and objectives bringing new and better treatment to patients,” Evotec CSO Cord Dohrmann, Ph.D., said in a statement.

The payoff for Celgene is distant, too. A series of missteps, notably the refusal-to-file letter for ozanimod, have tarnished the big biotech’s image, raising questions about its business development strategy and wiping out the stock market’s valuation of its pipeline. Evotec could deliver drugs that become major products for Celgene but that outcome is too distant to address its current woes.