Sanofi gambles $1B upfront on preclinical oncology biotech, bagging Amunix for its pipeline of T-cell engagers

Sanofi is betting $1 billion on a preclinical pipeline of anti-cancer T-cell engagers. The upfront outlay, plus up to $225 million in milestones, is set to give Sanofi ownership of West Coast immuno-oncology player Amunix Pharmaceuticals.

Amunix is building a pipeline of T-cell engagers on XPAT, a technology designed to improve the safety of the molecules by ensuring they activate in tumors rather than healthy tissues. That work, funded by the $190 million Amunix has raised over the past two years, has brought lead candidate AMX-818 to the cusp of the clinic—and persuaded Sanofi to write a sizable check.

Sanofi is paying $1 billion upfront and committing to $225 million in milestones. In return, Sanofi will take control of a wholly owned pipeline led by the HER2 T-cell engager AMX-818 and pick up stakes in programs Amunix has from the days when it operated as a technology licensing company. 

The team at Sanofi have first-hand experience of the technology Amunix licensed in its early years, with the phase 3 factor VIII candidate efanesoctocog alfa using the half-life extension platform Pro-XTEN. But the biotech Sanofi is buying is a different beast to the startup that spent the first decade of its existence licensing half-life extension technology to companies such as Biogen, Celgene and Merck.  

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Armed with $190 million in VC support, Amunix has transformed itself into a player in the red-hot T-cell engager space that is threatening to disrupt oncology markets. The off-the-shelf modality offers the potential to orchestrate powerful T-cell attacks on solid tumors.

That potential has attracted the attention of more companies than Sanofi. Takeda paid $525 million to take up its option to buy Maverick Therapeutics earlier this year, and, a year ago, Merck put up $1 billion in milestones to work with Janux Therapeutics on T-cell engagers against two targets. 

The flurry of deals follows data drops that suggest T-cell engagers are poised to fulfill the potential only pointed at by Amgen’s pioneering Blincyto. AbbVie, Regeneron and Roche are going after CD20 with bispecifics, delivering eye-catching data in the process, and other companies are applying the modality to hot targets such as BCMA.

For Sanofi, the takeover extends a string of acquisitions that has seen it buy mRNA specialist Translate Bio and NK cell player Kiadis. In each case, Sanofi has gained experimental candidates and platforms for use in future development programs.