Lilly links up European ADC network, snagging Elahere rival in latest biotech buy

Eli Lilly is hoovering up European antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) startups. Months after making a move for Emergence Therapeutics, Lilly has struck a deal to buy one of its partners, Mablink Bioscience, to add more ADC technology and drug candidates to its portfolio.

Lilly has had an on-again, off-again relationship with ADCs. The Big Pharma teamed up with ImmunoGen in 2011, only to ax the partnership seven years later. After seeing the ADC sector go supernova amid data on assets such as Enhertu, Lilly returned to the fray, striking a new deal with ImmunoGen last year and following up with the acquisition of Emergence in June.

The Mablink buyout pushes Lilly deeper into the hot cancer modality. France-based Mablink is building a pipeline on PSARLink, a linker technology designed to reduce systemic toxicity and increase the amount of the therapeutic payload delivered to target cancer cells.

Emergence identified the linker as a good fit for its plans to develop an ADC against Nectin-4, leading it to license the technology two years ago. Lilly added the Nectin-4 candidate, a potential rival to Seagen’s Padcev, to its pipeline by acquiring Emergence.

Having gained a close look at PSARLink, the Big Pharma has decided to bring Mablink and its linker technology into the fold as well. The acquisition is yet to receive the approval of French authorities, the biotech noted.

Mablink, which raised a 31 million euro ($33 million) series A round last year, is using the technology to build an in-house pipeline. The lead candidate is MBK-103, an ADC designed to deliver a topoisomerase I inhibitor to cells that express FRα. 

MBK-103 is in a competitive area. ImmunoGen received accelerated FDA approval for an ADC aimed at the folate receptor 11 months ago. Bristol Myers Squibb, which paid Eisai $650 million for its candidate, is giving chase, as is a clutch of biotechs including Elucida Oncology and ProfoundBio. Mablink expects to enter the clinic next year and shared (PDF) preclinical data earlier this year.