Junshi taps Revitope for next-gen anti-cancer bispecifics

cancer newspaper
Revitope will design up to five candidates against targets agreed with Junshi. (PDPics/Pixabay)

Junshi Biosciences has struck a deal to source T-cell engaging antibodies from Revitope Oncology. The deal, which is worth up to $160 million per molecule in milestones, comes as Junshi tries to pull off a $684 million IPO to fund development of a broad pipeline of therapeutics.

Shanghai-based Junshi put itself on the map late in 2018 when in quick succession it became the first company to win approval for an anti-PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor that originated in China and raised a $394 million Hong Kong IPO. Junshi has built on that platform over the past 18 months, working with Eli Lilly on an anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody while pushing a raft of cancer drugs through development. 

Now, Junshi has struck a deal to bring more early-stage assets into its pipeline. The agreement will see Revitope develop T-cell engagers based on proprietary sequences from Junshi's antibodies.

Revitope thinks its approach to T-cell engagement improves on existing platforms, such as the BiTE technology that underpins Amgen’s Blincyto, as the molecules are more tumor specific. Conventional bispecifics engage T cells regardless of whether they are bound to the target and use single markers for specificity, raising the risk of off-target effects in healthy tissues.

Massachusetts-based Revitope is trying to overcome those limitations by developing molecules that only bind to T cells after engaging two cell-surface markers. The approach should ensure T cells are only activated in the vicinity of the tumor and reduce the risk of off-target effects.

Revitope is yet to test that concept outside of preclinical settings, but has done enough to persuade Junshi to buy into the approach. Junshi is set to buy a 10% stake in Revitope for $10 million and pay up to $160 million per molecule in milestones to work with the U.S. biotech.

The arrangement will see Revitope design up to five candidates against targets agreed with Junshi. That done, Junshi will take sole responsibility for IND-enabling studies and beyond. Junshi will have a global license to the assets.

At Junshi, the assets will slot into a pipeline that features 11 oncology assets, plus a handful of drugs targeting metabolic, autoimmune and neurologic diseases. Junshi is seeking to raise money on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s Nasdaq-style STAR Market to fund development of the programs.