Nektar Therapeutics reportedly considering a sale

The San Francisco biotech is rumored to be weighing options. (Image: Nektar)

Nektar Therapeutics could join the growing list of biotechs opting for a takeover—if a Bloomberg report that it is exploring strategic options for the business proves to be true.

The newswire says the San Francisco-based company is looking at a sale of the business as well as partnerships, citing people with knowledge of the matter. The value of the company has been rising steadily over the last few months with its cap currently around the $15 billion mark—a level which Bloomberg suggests could make some suitors think twice given risks in its pipeline.

If Nektar does attract interest from suitors it could add to a bumper crop of deals starting the year for biotech M&A. More than $25 billion of industry deals have already been announced, headed by Sanofi’s $11.6 billion play for Biovarativ and Celgene’s $9 billion buyout of Juno Therapeutics.

Nektar, which combines drug delivery projects with novel therapies R&D, has had mixed fortunes over the last few months. It saw regulatory setbacks for two inhaled antibiotic programs and cancer therapy Onzeald (etirinotecan pegol) in Europe, but also positive pipeline progress and new partnerships with Eli Lilly and Takeda.

Much of the recent momentum behind the stock seems to have come from NKTR-214, an immuno-oncology candidate that posted encouraging clinical data in the phase 1 PIVOT-02 trial alongside Bristol-Myers Squibb’s checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) conference last November.

The drug is a CD122-biased agonist designed to stimulate the patient's own immune system to fight cancer, specifically by boosting cancer-killing T cells and natural killer (NK) cell populations. In the wake of the SITC data analysts at Canaccord and JPMorgan raised their price targets for the stock on what they saw as greater chances of approval in lung cancer, a particularly lucrative market for immuno-oncology therapies.

Nektar is also testing the drug in clinical trials as a monotherapy and is combination with two other checkpoint inhibitors, Merck & Co.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Roche’s Tecentriq (atezolizumab). And last year it formed an alliance with Takeda to pair NKTR-214 with up to five of the Japanese pharma’s oncology compounds.

Also generating some buzz are Nektar’s chronic pain treatment NKTR-181, a mu opioid drug which hit the mark in a phase 3 trial in chronic back pain last year, and UCB/Biogen-partnered anti-CD40 candidate dapirolizumab pegol which is in phase 2 for the inflammatory disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).