Innate Pharma and Novo Nordisk pen early I-O cancer drug deal

This comes a few months after a big IO trial setback for Innate and partner BMS

French biotech Innate Pharma has inked a new deal with Danish diabetes specialist Novo Nordisk that sees the latter boost its stake in the firm while Innate get its hands on a new I-O candidate.

The Marseille, France-based biopharma gets global, exclusive rights to Novo’s first-in-class clinical-stage anti-C5aR antibody, known as IPH5401, which Innate says is a “strategic fit to [our] current immuno-oncology pipeline. It adds a clinical-stage proprietary product that reinforces Innate Pharma's position in the field of antibodies targeting the tumor microenvironment beyond the Company's activities in the adenosine pathway.”

Innate says it plans to start trials with IPH5401 in oncology next year, but did not give specific targets.

Novo has already done 2 phase 1 tests with the anti-C5Ar, although not in cancer, but rather in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, where a “good safety profile was demonstrated,” according to a statement.

The money side? Upfront, Innate gets €40 million ($45 million), almost all of which will be paid in shares, seeing Novo’s stake jump from 10.3% to a max of 15.8%. Around €2.8 million goes to the company in cash.

Novo, meanwhile, is in line for €370 million in development biobucks, as well as double digit royalties on sales, should the early-stage candidate approval.

Mondher Mahjoubi, CEO of Innate Pharma, said of the deal: “With the acquisition of the first-in-class anti-C5aR antibody, we are broadening our proprietary clinical pipeline. We believe anti-C5aR has a high potential for cancer patients in multiple indications and look forward to beginning clinical development of this promising asset in 2018. Innate Pharma has a strong track record of value creation from in-licensed assets with lirilumab and monalizumab. This acquisition strengthens our asset base further and supports Innate Pharma's transition towards becoming a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company.”

This will be a much needed pick-me-up for Innate, which earlier this year saw its BMS-partnered checkpoint inhibitor med lirilumab, when tested in elderly patients with acute myeloid leukemia, miss its primary endpoint in beating out placebo. The news hit its shares hard, although the company has slowly rebounded over the past few months.

It’s also working with AstraZeneca on the anti-NKG2A med monalizumab, which has seen a series of trials for the med start in recent years, including a combo with AZ's big immuno-oncology hope, and recent FDA-approved Imfinzi (durvalumab).

Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Novo’s CSO, added of the pact: “In light of Innate’s success within the immuno-oncology field, we believe that Innate is the ideal partner for the anti-C5aR program and we are looking forward to seeing the program advance further in development.”

Related: Novo Nordisk kills oral insulin, rejigs R&D to address U.S. payers

This also comes amid new management and an evolved R&D strategy for Novo as it casts the net a little wider outside of its diabetes mainstay, coming as pricing pressures continue to squeeze medications in this area.