Ipsen gets hot on cold tumors, inking $1.2B biobucks deal for Marengo's T-cell engagers

Ipsen is hot on Marengo Therapeutics’ ability to treat “cold” tumors. The French drugmaker has agreed to pay Marengo up to $1.2 billion to access a T-cell engager platform for targeting immunologically cold tumors that are typically resistant to immunotherapies.

Marengo began working with Ipsen in 2022. At that time, Ipsen paid the biotech $45 million for rights to two drug candidates from its STAR platform. STAR enhances antibodies with T cell costimulatory signals to try to boost the immune response in “hot” tumors that are likely to respond to immunotherapy. The biotech’s other platform, TriSTAR, is designed for tumors that are unlikely to respond to immunotherapy.

Cold tumors lack the attributes to support robust anti-cancer immune responses, for example because they are surrounded by cells that stop T cells from attacking. Immunotherapies have limited efficacy in such cancers, creating interest in how to turn cold tumors hot and allow more patients to benefit from the powerful drug class.

TriSTAR is Marengo’s answer to that question. Rather than rely on the T cells at the tumor site, which are often of poor quality or exhausted, Marengo wants to redirect a new, expanded pool of highly activated memory T cells to the tumor. If the biotech is right, the approach will promote more potent and durable anti-tumor activity than traditional T-cell engagers. 

Ipsen has bought into the idea. The drugmaker is paying an upfront fee of undisclosed size to work on up to two additional assets with Marengo. Ipsen will take full responsibility once a development candidate is nominated. As the company advances the candidates, it will pay milestones that could swell the value of the deal up to $1.2 billion.

The deal comes about two months after Ipsen teamed up with Skyhawk Therapeutics to develop small molecules that modulate RNA and secured global rights to a ROR1 antibody-drug conjugate from Sutro Biopharma. Ipsen struck the deals to advance an external innovation strategy intended to add a third driver of growth, on top of existing products and new launches, and offset the loss of somatuline sales.