Celgene pays Immatics $75M to work on solid tumor cell therapies

Celgene has paid Immatics $75 million (€68 million) upfront to collaborate on the development of anti-cancer adoptive cell therapies. The deal gives Celgene the chance to opt in to T-cell treatments for solid tumor programs once they reach candidate selection.

Immatics has the technology to develop multiple types of adoptive cell therapies, from selected and expanded pools of a patient’s own T cells through to off-the-shelf therapies engineered to recognize cancer cell targets. The German biotech has other technologies for finding oncology targets and T-cell receptors (TCRs).

Using the technologies, Immatics plans to develop engineered T-cell therapies aimed at solid tumor targets and take them up to the lead candidate stage. At that point, Celgene will have the option to secure full—or, for selected assets—partial, rights and take the programs forward itself.

Celgene is paying $75 million for the chance to option three candidates discovered by Immatics. If it wants to take the assets forward, Celgene will need to commit to up to $505 million per program in option fees and milestones, plus tiered royalties on net sales. 

The deal marks another step forward for Immatics’ cell therapy program. Immatics spun out of the  University of Tübingen in 2000 and went on to strike deals with companies including Roche. The push into cell therapies is more recent, though, with a pivotal moment for that side of the business coming in 2015 when it teamed up with MD Anderson Cancer Center to create a U.S. cell therapy offshoot.

Since then, interest in cell therapies has skyrocketed, with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) validating the therapeutic potential while spurring demand for technologies better suited to the treatment of solid tumors. TCR T-cell therapies could be such a technology, because they target a wider range of antigens than CAR-Ts, which are limited to surface proteins. There are also signs that TCR T cells are better at infiltrating tumors. 

The field is yet to generate the stellar clinical data needed to show these mooted benefits translate into improved outcomes for patients. But with Celgene joining companies including GlaxoSmithKline in the field, there is now a group of well-resourced projects hoping to deliver a breakthrough drug.