Lilly joins forces with NextCure to fuel immuno-oncology expansion

Eli Lilly
NextCure recently moved Siglec-15 antibody NC318 into a phase 1/2 solid tumor trial. (Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly has teamed up with NextCure to continue its immuno-oncology expansion. The deal gives Lilly a source of antibodies against novel cancer targets in return for $25 million upfront and undisclosed milestones.

Lilly spent the first stage of the immuno-oncology era on the sidelines but this year has shown signs that it is ready to enter the fray. A new-look immuno-oncology team is in place, and the $1.6 billion takeover of Armo Biosciences has given it a phase 3 PEGylated IL-10 and a clutch of early-stage drugs to push through the clinic.

The NextCure agreement could bolster Lilly’s early-stage immuno-oncology pipeline. NextCure, which is staffed by executives who led Amplimmune to a takeover by AstraZeneca, is built upon a platform for scouring cell surface interactions in search of targets that affect immune function.

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Lilly is paying $25 million upfront and taking a $15 million stake in NextCure for the chance to access the fruits of the platform. In return, Lilly gets an option to exclusively license antibodies against targets discovered using NextCure’s platform. NextCure has the option to license antibodies, too, and will receive milestones and royalties of undisclosed size if the drugs Lilly picks up progress.

If the collaboration plays out as hoped, the drugs Lilly picks up will have the sort of standout features the Big Pharma will need to come from behind and claim a sizable slice of the immuno-oncology market.

“Through this collaboration, we hope to leverage NextCure's discovery platform to expand the reach of this class of groundbreaking treatments by identifying novel cancer targets that could enable the development of a new generation of immuno-oncology therapies,” Lilly VP Greg Plowman said in a statement. 

For NextCure, the agreement delivers cash and validation at an important moment for the company. Siglec-15 antibody NC318 recently moved into a phase 1/2 solid tumor trial, and a second candidate is due to get to the IND stage next year. NextCure last disclosed funding when it raised a $67 million series A at the start of 2016, and hired a CFO with IPO experience this April.

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