Immatics bags $1B tie-up with Amgen for cancer immunotherapies

Amgen and Immatics are bringing together two cancer drug development platforms in a bid to create a new generation of cancer immunotherapies.

The deal—which sees Immatics get a $30 million upfront payment and could net it more than $1 billion in milestones—focuses on developing double-headed (bispecific) antibodies that will encourage T lymphocytes to attack tumor cells.

Germany-based Immatics brings its T cell receptor-targeted platform to the collaboration, with Amgen contributing its bispecific antibody technology which underpins its already-marketed acute lymphoblastic leukemia therapy Blincyto (blinatumomab).

Amgen's approach involves creating bispecific antibodies with one end that binds to antigens on cancer cells—these will be provided by Immatics in the new alliance—and another end that targets a T cell activator such as CD3, encouraging the immune cell to destroy the cancer.

The deal comes as Amgen is looking to beef up its immuno-oncology portfolio and catch up with the leaders in the fast-growing sector, which is predicted to be worth tens of billions of dollars in the coming years. Bispecific antibodies are a key element of that strategy, and the biotech major previously signed a $1.7 billion bispecific antibody-based alliance with Xencor to bolster its position in the category.

Meantime, the new deal is another endorsement for Immatics' platform, which has already resulted in a $1 billion tie-up with Roche and collaborations with MorphoSys and cancer specialist center MD Anderson.

Immatics' partners are keeping the faith despite an early setback for the company at the end of 2015 when its IMA901 cancer vaccine candidate for metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) failed to show any additional benefit when added to treatment with Pfizer's Sutent (sunitinib) in a Phase III trial.

"The intersection of immunology and oncology represents a promising and rapidly developing approach that can have a significant impact for patients with cancer," said Amgen's head of R&D Sean Harper as the collaboration was announced.

Other than Blincyto Amgen has three other bispecific antibody candidates in its clinical pipeline, all currently in Phase I testing.

AMG 211 (anti-CEA, anti-CD3)) is being developed for various cancer types in a partnership between Amgen and AstraZeneca (AZ) unit Medimmune. AMG 330 (anti-CD33, anti-CD3) is an acute myeloid leukemia candidate, and AMG 420 (anti-BCMA, anti-CD3)—formerly licensed to Boehringer Ingelheim—is in testing for multiple myeloma.