Celgene strikes possible takeover deal for in-demand Anokion

Anokion is in line to be snapped up by serial dealmaker Celgene as the Big Biotech pays $45 million up front with an M&A clause built in for the Big Pharma-backed autoimmune disease specialist.

Under the deal, Anokion gets the $45 million with a $10 million bonus should it hit its preclinical marks, but the bigger part of the pact sees Celgene buy into an equity interest in Anokion, as well as holding on to the exclusive right to acquire the upstart at “pre-specified option exercise points,” although what these are have not been made public.

The Swiss biotech, a spinout of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, is currently doing early work on its antigen-specific immune tolerance platform that it hopes will lead to a series of meds in the future for a variety of autoimmune indications.

Its platform is deisgned to have “diverse applications,” according to the biotech, which include tolerizing the immune system to self-antigens that underlie autoimmune disorders, as well as reducing the immunogenicity of therapeutic proteins.

Anokion’s most advanced method to immune tolerance is to use the body’s so-called tolerance mechanism of apoptotic or aging cells.

Its tech harnesses the power of natural immune regulation by engineering proteins to be perceived as 'self' entities.

Many therapeutic protein drugs are perceived by the body as ‘foreign’ entities and are thus targeted for attack and clearance by the immune system. As a consequence, such treatments may become ineffective and potentially dangerous.

Anokion is seeking to create tech that can reduce immunogenicity of existing meds and to enable development of proteins previously thought to be too immunogenic for repeated use.

The biotech says it wants to “retrain the immune system” and restore tolerance to the relevant self-proteins.

Similar tolerizing work is being done by another early-stage spinout from German biotech-CRO hybrid Evotec, which last March launched Topas Therapeutics GmbH, an abbreviated form of “tolerizing particles,” the main process behind the newco’s platform.

Topas, based in Germany, specializes in the field of nanoparticle-based therapeutics to treat immunological disorders.

Anokion is also working on developing a liver-targeted tolerance approach through that is designed to engineer antigens attach to liver cells, which could also trigger a tolerogenic response. It has previously slated 2017 as the year it would enter the clinic for its most advanced programs.

“We are extremely pleased to be working with the outstanding team at Celgene. Anokion is thrilled to be a part of their insightful vision and initiative to develop and bring the next generation of therapeutics to patients in need,” said Jeffrey Hubbell, the academic founder, chairman and CSO of Anokion.

The company has a big list of biopharma and VC admirers, including Novo Nordisk, Novartis and VC Versant, which all backed the biotech in its CHF 33 million ($37.5 million) 2014 Series A round.

And back in the summer of 2015, the biotech also penned a deal potentially worth $760 million in biobucks with Japanese pharma Astellas, a pact that also saw the pair create a new spinout called Kanyos that aims to push on in preclinical work in Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.