Horizon and Centauri join forces to create new cancer spinoff

By Ben Adams

Gene editing specialist Horizon Discovery Group has penned a new immuno-oncology JV with Centauri Therapeutics under the name Avvinity Therapeutics.

The Cambridge, U.K.-based Horizon teams up with fellow U.K. native Centauri, a biotech focused on the discovery and development of novel molecules targeting life-threatening infectious diseases, to create the new spinoff biotech firm.

Avvinity will combine Horizon's gene editing, immunology, oncology and drug discovery capabilities with Centauri's Alphamer technology. The hope is the two companies' expertise will create a new platform to develop the next generation of immuno-oncology drugs for both solid tumors and blood cancers.

Avvinity will be targeting an immuno-oncology market currently worth around $35 billion per year and expected to grow to around $70 billion per year by 2020.

The field is currently dominated by Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), although AstraZeneca ($AZN), Roche ($RHHBY) and a host of other big pharma companies--as well as biotechs--are all hoping to cash in on the immuno-oncology field over the next decade.

These new drugs work by stimulating a patient's immune system to help destroy cancer cells and have particularly effective in treating late-stage melanoma.

Under the terms of the deal, Horizon will out-license certain background IP relating to its translational genomics and drug discovery platforms, and will invest up to £5.3 million ($7.45 million) over two tranches.

The first lot of cash--£2.5 million--is already committed, with the second to be paid out "at Horizon's discretion pending the progress of three development programs", according to a statement from the firm.

Meanwhile, Centauri will license background IP and expertise on its Alphamer technology to Avvinity, which will have exclusivity for the field of oncology for an initial three-year period, which could be extended.

Avvinity will be managed jointly by Horizon and Centauri, and based on the investment of IP, technology and the first tranche of funding. Horizon will own 33% of Avvinity's equity, representing 50% of the most-preferred class of voting shares.

Upon completion of the second tranche of funding Horizon will own 49.99% of Avvinity's equity, representing 50% of the most-preferred class of voting shares. The JV will be managed within Horizon as part of the company's research biotech business.

But funding from the two companies will not be enough and both admit that Avvinity will need to raise "significant new external investment" in order to pay the many tens of millions of dollars it will need to fund the first set of clinical trials.

Dr. Darrin Disley, CEO and president of research biotech of Horizon Discovery Group, said: "The establishment of Avvinity is in line with our hybrid research biotech strategy to not only work with partners but also take advantage of the therapeutic upside potential of the most exciting new areas of personalized and genomic medicine in a risk-managed way."

Dr. Mike Westby, CEO of Centauri Therapeutics Limited, added: "Alphamers are an entirely novel way to target disease and represent an exciting new approach for recruitment of host immunity. At Centauri we have invested to build the Alphamer platform and assembled the drug discovery expertise necessary to exploit the platform in infectious diseases."

- read Horizon's release

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