Roche gets busy at the deal table, wagering $190M upfront on off-the-shelf CAR-Ts and ex-Biogen asset

Roche’s business development team has made a busy start to August. On Wednesday, the Swiss pharma company disclosed deals with Poseida Therapeutics and Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals that are together worth $190 million upfront. 

The Poseida pact is the larger of the two deals. In that deal, Roche is paying $110 million upfront and committing the same amount in near-term milestones for rights to and options on a clutch of allogeneic CAR-T programs. As the candidates advance past milestones, Roche could end up paying $6 billion, plus tiered royalties that run into the low double digits. 

In return, Roche has secured an exclusive, worldwide license to allogeneic CAR-T cell therapy products from each of Poseida’s existing BCMA and dual CD19-CD20 programs. The BCMA candidate is in phase 1, and the CD19-CD20 program is expected to be ready to apply next year for clinical trials. Poseida will perform development activities on the two candidates through phase 1 dose-escalation trials, with Roche paying a share of the bill. Roche is on the hook for up to $1.5 billion in milestones tied to the two candidates. 

The deal also gives Roche an option to license products from two other Poseida programs, namely its work on a BCMA-CD19 dual inhibitor and a CD70 candidate. Roche will decide on its option once a candidate is chosen for studies to build up to clinical trials or, if it pays a fee, after the completion of phase 1 dose-escalation trials. Roche’s milestones for the candidates covered by the option agreement could hit $1.1 billion.

Poseida and Roche are also embarking on a two-year research collaboration, with the option of a second 18-month program, to “explore and preclinically test a specified number of agreed-upon next generation therapeutic concepts relating to allogeneic CAR-T therapies.” Roche can designate up to six hematologic, malignancy-directed, allogeneic CAR-T programs from the two research programs. That part of the deal is worth up to $2.9 billion in milestones. A solid tumor license option is worth a further $415 million.

The agreement significantly increases Roche’s exposure to cell therapies, a field that it initially steered clear of. The company has begun to embrace the modality in recent years, teaming up with Adaptive Biotechnologies in 2019 and Adaptimmune 11 months ago. The Poseida pact gives Roche access to tech that is in competition with companies such as Allogene and candidates that hit the same targets as approved CAR-Ts including Johnson & Johnson’s Carvykti and Gilead’s Yescarta. 

Genentech deal

In its second deal on Wednesday, Roche secured a global license to Kiniksa’s vixarelimab, an antibody that targets oncostatin M receptor beta, through its Genentech unit. Roche will pay $80 million upfront and a further $20 million within 30 days of receiving certain drug supplies. Kiniksa is also in line to pocket up to $600 million in milestones. 

Kiniksa will continue to conduct and finalize a phase 2b trial of the asset in the reduction of itching in patients with the inflammatory skin disease prurigo nodularis. Aside from that, Genentech will handle all development costs for a candidate that Kiniksa picked up from Biogen for $11.5 million in 2016. Kiniksa has since hit the primary endpoint in a phase 2a prurigo nodularis trial and landed a breakthrough tag.