Partnered and backed by AbbVie, but cancer I-O biotech Tizona targeted by Gilead

Gilead Sciences is continuing its low-cost sweep-up of small oncology biotechs as it lands a deal to buy Tizona Therapeutics.

Headed up by Scott Clarke, an ex-Roche exec who served as its global head of oncology partnering for Asia and emerging markets, the cancer immunotherapy company is working on several early assets, including TTX-030, a CD39-targeting antibody that last year attracted AbbVie’s interest and, according to preclinical data, seems to block an immune-inhibiting pathway in the tumor microenvironment.

AbbVie, in fact, paid $105 million upfront as well as making an undisclosed equity investment in Tizona to secure exclusive rights to anti-CD39 antibody TTX-030, which the two companies say is a first-in-class immuno-oncology drug that could restore and bolster immune responses against cancer cells.

Now, Gilead is getting involved in the action, but it wants access to the biotech’s other main asset, TTX-080. For this, it has penned a $300 million pact to acquire a 49.9% equity interest in Tizona, with an option to buy out the biotech in full for a further $1.25 billion, part of which comes in biobucks.

Gilead can do this at any point, but it mainly pivots on the phase 1b readout of TTX-080, a potential first-in-class drug that targets HLA-G, a new and emerging immune checkpoint expressed across multiple tumor types.

It’s designed to hit tumors that do not respond to current anti-PD-(L)1 treatments and to deepen responses in tumors that are sensitive to anti-PD-(L)1 therapies.

As for TTX-030, this will be “spun off,” according to the company, into a “separate entity prior to closing of this transaction.” It remains a part of the AbbVie deal and not open to Gilead.

“Tizona is pursuing first-in-class cancer immunotherapies that could make an important difference in oncology by helping patients who don’t respond to current checkpoint inhibitors,” said Daniel O’Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead.

“This agreement with Tizona adds to the significant progress we’ve made in the first half of this year in building out a strong and diverse immuno-oncology pipeline. We now have multiple opportunities to develop novel therapies that will improve the treatment of cancer.”