Debiopharm buys ImmunoGen ADC to grow cancer pipeline

Debiopharm has bought a phase 2 antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) from ImmunoGen to add to its clinical-phase cancer pipeline. The agreement gives Debiopharm an anti-CD37 non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) candidate in return for $25 million (€22 million) upfront plus milestones.

Lausanne, Switzerland-based Debiopharm is expected to hand over the first $5 million milestone later this year once ImmunoGen has transferred all technologies related to the asset, the name of which is changing from IMGN529 to DEBIO 1562 as a result of the deal. Debiopharm will pay ImmunoGen another $25 million if the ADC advances as far as a phase 3 trial.

The first step is to get DEBIO 1562 through a phase 2 trial. ImmunoGen took the ADC through a phase 1 trial that chalked up some partial remissions but also reported dose-limiting toxicities, some of which may have stemmed from cytokine release. The data were encouraging enough for ImmunoGen to kick off a phase 2 trial combining IMGN529 with rituximab, also known as Rituxan, a Roche drug. ImmunoGen completed the safety stage of the rituximab combination trial.

Debiopharm plans to build on these efforts by taking the candidate to the next stage of the phase 2 trial in patients with NHL, particularly to diffuse large-cell B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). ImmunoGen secured orphan drug status for IMGN529 in DLBCL and the made the indication the focal point of its phase 2 rituximab combination trial.

The focus puts Debiopharm should to shoulder with a clutch of drugmakers that are deploying a variety of approaches to treat the aggressive form of NHL. Kite Pharma and Novartis are pushing CAR-T therapies toward approval in the indication, while Debiopharm’s European peer Nordic Nanovector is working on an anti-CD37 antibody-radionuclide conjugate. And, although Seattle Genetics decision to drop development of Adcetris in DLBCL has thinned the pack, biotechs including Menarini are still developing ADC rivals to Debiopharm’s DEBIO 1562.

Debiopharm thinks data generated by its ADC to date suggest it can carve out a niche and justify the addition of it to a mid-phase pipeline that already features one cancer asset, DEBIO 1143.

“IMGN529/DEBIO 1562 has already generated compelling clinical data and we look forward to further exploring it in combination with Rituxan, which could provide an attractive alternative to conventional chemotherapies for patients with NHL such as DLBCL,” Chris Freitag, VP of clinical research and development of Debiopharm, said in a statement.

ImmunoGen signalled its interest in offloading IMGN529 and its other B-cell lymphoma drug—Sanofi-reject coltuximab ravtansine—after wrapping up a strategic review in September. That review cost 65 employees their jobs and IMGN529 its place in ImmunoGen’s pipeline plans as the biotech sought to ensure it has enough cash to reach an interim analysis of a phase 3 trial of its lead asset, mirvetuximab soravtansine.