Jazz, Werewolf to howl at the moon together in $1.26B backloaded biobucks pact

It was a presentation at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference that swayed Jazz Pharmaceuticals to put up $15 million upfront to join Werewolf Therapeutics on the prowl. 

The backloaded biobucks deal will see the two companies work on a candidate that goes after difficult and unresponsive tumors. The relatively small upfront payment to Werewolf will easily be eclipsed by $1.26 billion in potential development and regulatory milestone fees if all goes well. Through the deal, Jazz will gain exclusive global development and commercialization rights to WTX-613, a conditionally activated interferon alpha molecule.

WTX-613 is in preclinical development at the moment, and Jazz aims to apply for human study with the FDA in 2023. The therapy is meant to avoid the severe toxicities that occur with certain immunotherapies, which help harness the immune system to fight cancer. WTX-613 is being developed to work alone or in combination with checkpoint inhibitors in refractory and/or immunologically unresponsive tumors.

Jazz’s Rob Iannone, M.D., who serves as executive vice president and global head of research and development, said the company was impressed with Werewolf after seeing proof-of-concept data at ASH in December 2021. Jazz will be able to expand into immuno-oncology with the transaction and get closer to a goal of delivering five additional novel therapies by 2025, he added.

Werewolf, on the other paw, will get the chance to move WTX-613 forward more quickly thanks to Jazz’s help while also focusing on its lead candidates WTX-124 and WTX-330, said President and CEO Daniel Hicklin, Ph.D. Werewolf expects to file investigational new drug applications for both WTX-124 and WTX-330 this year, so the company will be plenty busy. Both therapies similarly address toxicities in cancer treatment but WTX-124 is an IL-2 cytokine and WTX-330 is an IL-12. Merck's Keytruda belongs to the immunotherapy class being tackled with these treatments.  

The Werewolf pact fits in with Jazz’s deal strategy, which included a $10 million upfront partnership with Redx Pharma for two targeted cancer therapies signed back in September 2020. A year before, the company offered $3.5 million upfront and $203 million in milestones to Redx to buy a preclinical pan-RAF inhibitor.

Werewolf, meanwhile, has had a busy year after joining the public markets with a $120 million IPO in April 2021. Werewolf’s shape-shifting drugs are designed to deliver the benefits of cytokines without their nasty side effects. Known as Indukines, the drugs are “switched off” when they are given systemically to patients and activate only when they arrive at their destination: cancer cells.