Novartis jumps on board ImmunoGen's hot antibody platform

Waltham, MA-based ImmunoGen is rolling out its latest collaboration this morning, banking a rich, $45 million upfront to put its antibody drug conjugate technology to work for Novartis. The company stands to gain up to $200.5 million in milestones for each anticancer antibody it develops for an undisclosed number of antigens being targeted by the Big Pharma company.

Novartis will also cover research and manufacturing costs in the deal covering ImmunoGen's Targeted Antibody Payload, which has identified seven drug programs now in ImmunoGen's pipeline. Two of those programs are now in the clinic and CEO Dan Junius tells FierceBiotech that it plans to push another into clinical trials in 2011 with a fourth to jump into the clinic in 2012.

Antibody technology is hot, and Immunogen (IMGN), which went public last spring, has been attracting some of the best partners in biopharma with its approach to developing "armed antibodies" which are designed to selectively dispatch potent chemotherapies directly to cancer cells, leaving healthy tissue alone. These kinds of smart cancer bombs should improve efficacy and reduce side effects, two of the Holy Grails in cancer drug development.

The biotech may be best known for its work on Roche's T-DM1, which has produced some stellar clinical trial data. The success of their collaboration so far has clearly enhanced the company's reputation in the field. ImmunoGen is also working with Sanofi-Aventis. "I think T-DM1 has been a catalyst to some extent," says Junius. "In the pharma world, nobody wants to get left behind."

Coincidentally, ImmunoGen also announced some promising early-stage results for lorvotuzumab mertansine, which is designed to target and kill cancer cells that express the protein CD56. The compound is a potential treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma, small-cell lung cancer, ovarian cancer, multiple myeloma, and other CD56+ tumors. 

- here's the ImmunoGen release on the Novartis pact
- see the ImmunoGen release on the trial results
- read the Dow Jones report