Roche plots multi-KRAS attack, paying Hookipa $25M for arenaviral immunotherapy

Roche is opening a new front in its targeting of KRAS-mutated cancer, agreeing to pay $25 million upfront and committing to up to $930 million in biobucks for the rights to Hookipa Pharma’s HB-700 and the option for another arenaviral immunotherapy.

Hookipa is coming at the challenge of treating KRAS-mutated cancers from a different angle than players such as Amgen and Mirati Therapeutics. The Vienna-based biotech is built on a platform for engineering arenaviruses to carry and deliver virus-specific or tumor-specific genes and thereby provoke an immune response by CD8+ T cells. 

In the case of HB-700, Hookipa has engineered the virus to induce responses against cells that carry the five most common KRAS mutations, namely G12D, G12V, G12R, G12C and G13D. Amgen’s Lumakras and Mirati’s adagrasib only target G12C. 

If Hookipa is right, its multi-KRAS approach could establish HB-700 as a treatment for a range of solid tumors including lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancers. The biotech estimates that more than 200,000 pancreatic, colorectal and lung cancer patients in the U.S. and EU could have benefited from the drug in 2021, reflecting the fact it targets 74% to 95% of KRAS-mutated forms of the tumors. 

Roche sees promise in the approach. The Swiss drug developer already has a toehold in the KRAS space through its G12C inhibitor GDC-6036 and potentially complementary SHP2 inhibitor RG6433. But the company has still opened its wallet to secure the rights to Hookipa’s novel spin on how to target the oncogene.

Under the terms of the deal, Hookipa will guide HB-700 through phase 1b before handing it off to Roche for further development, assuming it decides to take the candidate forward. As the program, which is yet to reach the clinic, moves through research and development in up to four indications, Roche will pay up to $335 million in milestones. A further $250 million is tied to sales-based milestones. 

Roche has also secured the chance to license a second program targeting undisclosed cancer antigens for $15 million. If Roche takes up that option, Hookipa could receive up to $173 million in R&D paydays and up to $160 million in sales-based milestones, bringing the total potential value of the deal up above $950 million.

Shares in Hookipa jumped 40% in premarket trading to $1.70. Even so, the stock is still well down on the double-digit price it commanded before Hookipa reported phase 1 data on another cancer candidate, HB-200, last year.