Keytruda killer: Chipscreen bags Chinese rights to Biocytogen's bispecific antibody

Biocytogen Pharmaceuticals has found a partner for its push to develop a better checkpoint inhibitor, with Chipscreen NewWay Biosciences picking up regional rights to its PD-1xCD40 bispecific antibody.

The candidate, YH008, is designed to improve on checkpoint inhibitors such as Merck & Co.’s Keytruda by agonizing CD40 conditionally upon PD-1 binding. Multiple research groups have identified CD40 as a way to activate anti-cancer T cells and remodel the tumor microenvironment, but toxicity has held the field back. Targeting PD-1 with a bispecific could limit activation of CD40 cells to tumors and lymph nodes. 

YH008 is a leading exploration of that idea. Having linked YH008 to stronger anti-tumor activity than Keytruda in mouse models, Biocytogen, working through its wholly owned subsidiary Eucure Biopharma, secured FDA clearance to study the candidate in PD-(L)1-resistant cancers late last year.

The drug candidate has caught the eye of Biocytogen’s fellow China-based drug developer Chipscreen. In return for 40 million Chinese yuan ($5.8 million) upfront, Chipscreen has secured the right to develop and commercialize YH008 in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The deal also features up to 360 million Chinese yuan in development milestones and up to 196 million Chinese yuan in sales milestones. All told, Chipscreen could end up handing over more than $85 million for the candidate.

“The unique mechanism of action of YH008 bring together the synergies of immune activation and immunosuppressive blockade, and can reduce toxic side effects and increase safety,” Bin Liu, head of the Center of Antibody Early R&D at Chipscreen, said in the release. “The clinical potential of YH008 is worth looking forward to and it is a good addition to the products under development of Chipscreen NewWay.” 

The antibody has regulatory clearance for an early-phase clinical trial in China. Chipscreen plans to “rapidly advance the clinical stage research and development of YH008,” Liu said.