Gilead follows Big Pharma peers to Dragonfly's pond in $300M deal for natural killer cell engagers

Dragonfly Therapeutics’ TriNKET platform seems to be turning out more than simple tchotchkes, if buy-ins from Merck & Co., AbbVie and Bristol Myers Squibb are any indication. Gilead has become the latest Big Pharma to find a gem from the small biotech, entering a $300 million upfront deal to work together on cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Gilead’s upfront payment will secure it rights to the worldwide license for an immunotherapy program called DF7001, plus additional preclinical NK cell engager programs developed from Dragonfly’s platform.

TriNKETs, which stands for tri-specific NK engagers, activate the innate and adaptive immune systems by recruiting natural killer (NK) and cytotoxic T cells to fight cancer in the tumor microenvironment. The platform has attracted the attention of Merck, which signed a $700 million pact with Dragonfly in November 2021, and BMS, which opted in on a sixth candidate last year as part of the companies’ $475 million upfront deal signed in 2020.

Beyond the upfront payment from Gilead, Dragonfly will be eligible for opt-in payments as well as development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments plus royalties of up to 20% of worldwide sales down the road.

At the center of the deal is DF7001, which is in preclinical development against solid tumors, with a request for human study expected to be filed with the FDA in the first half of 2023. The therapy is designed to activate and direct NK and cytotoxic T-cell killing against cancer by targeting the protein 5T4. This protein is associated with poor outcomes in cancers including non-small cell lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. The hope is that DF7001 will kill the cells that express this protein.