Regeneron sees skin cancer potential beyond PD-1s with $250M Checkmate acquisition

Regeneron plans to show there is more to skin cancer than PD-1 inhibitors through the $250 million acquisition of Checkmate Pharmaceuticals for the lead immuno-oncology asset vidutolimod.

Vidutolimod is an agonist of a protein called toll-like receptor 9 that is delivered in a virus-like particle. The therapy is administered into tumors with the aim of inducing and expanding anti-tumor T cells in patients whose cancer has not been halted by PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors.

The drug is being studied in phase 1 trials in combination with other agents for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, as well as head and neck cancer.

"As we continue to advance and expand our research efforts in immuno-oncology, the acquisition of Checkmate will add a promising new modality to Regeneron's toolkit of potential approaches for difficult-to-treat cancers," said Leonard Schleifer, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Regeneron. "The unique combination of a differentiated Toll-like receptor 9 with other antibody-based oncology agents may result in increased clinical benefit and provide new treatment options for patients in need."

If successful, vidutolimod will complement Regeneron and Sanofi’s PD-1 drug Libtayo, which is FDA approved for the two most common skin cancers in the U.S.: basal cell carcinoma and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Regeneron also has a bispecific antibody called REGN5458 in phase 2 trials for multiple myeloma.

"We believe that the data we have generated with vidutolimod positions Checkmate at the forefront of the innate immune activator field,” said Art Krieg, M.D., Checkmate's founder and chief scientific officer. “It is our hope that Regeneron's resources and expertise will help accelerate the development of vidutolimod and realization of the full potential of our virus-like particle platform for immunotherapy."

The all-cash acquisition values Checkmate at $10.50 a share, over four times above the biotech’s April 18 closing price of $2.41. The deal comes two months after Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Checkpoint appointed Bristol Myers veteran Alan Bash as CEO.