Sanofi expands on Innate tumor collab with fresh $1.44B deal for more NK engagers

After signing a collaboration with fellow French company Innate Pharma in 2016 to develop natural killer (NK) cell engagers, Sanofi is paying 25 million euros upfront for a second order.

The Paris-based Big Pharma has expanded on the previous collaboration, this time using Innate’s ANKET platform to target the glycoprotein B7H3, which is overexpressed on various solid tumors. Sanofi will also have the option to add two more targets to the deal, with the pharma giant responsible for all development, manufacturing and commercialization once candidates have been selected.

As well as the 25 million euro ($26.6 million) upfront payment, Sanofi will be eligible to hand over up to 1.35 billion euros ($1.44 billion) in biobucks from preclinical, clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones as well as royalties.

It marks a bigger financial commitment than the original 400 million euro ($425 million) biobucks agreement back in 2016, of which 13 million euros have so far been paid out. That collaboration, which focused on the activating receptor NKp46, resulted in two bispecific NK cell engagers that are currently being evaluated by Sanofi’s R&D team.

One of these, dubbed SAR443579, targets the receptor CD123 and is in phase 1/2 trials for elapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia, B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome. Sanofi has also moved the other candiate, a BCMA-targeting NK cell engager dubbed SAR445514, into studies designed to pave the way to enter human trials.

Both SAR443579 and SAR445514 are designed to induce dual targeting of the NK activating receptors NKp46 and CD16 for optimized NK cell activation.

In a release Monday morning, Sanofi’s global head of oncology research Valeria Fantin, Ph.D., said the company is continuing to explore “the potential of NK cells for cancer immunotherapy, a key pillar for our oncology strategy.”

“Our relationship with Innate aligns with our commitment to work with promising French companies and supports our ambition to develop a diverse portfolio of next-generation NK cell engagers, highly synergistic with Sanofi’s allogeneic NK cell platform, engineered lymphokines that stimulate NK cells, and growing immuno-oncology pipeline,” Fantin added.

Sanofi, which bought allogeneic or "off-the-shelf" NK cell platform developer Kiadis for $358 million back in 2020, is far from the only Big Pharma that has seen potential in Innate’s NK technology. The Marseille, France-based biotech’s list of partners also includes Bristol Myers Squibb, Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca; the latter's anti-NKG2A antibody collaboration monalizumab flunked a phase 3 trial in the summer.

“By incorporating various tumor antigen binders, NK cell engagers are a versatile technology that may provide new options for patients and offer clinical benefit across multiple cancers, whilst also maintaining a good safety profile,” Yannis Morel, Ph.D., executive vice president of product portfolio strategy and business development at Innate, said in this morning’s release.