Shire-hunting Takeda notches R&D collaboration with Nektar, pair to combo I-O drugs

Nektar Therapeutics
(Image courtesy of Nektar Therapeutics)

Takeda, with apparently near infinitely deep pockets for M&A and collaborations, has struck a deal: not to buy Shire, as yet, but rather with Nektar, as the two eye new trials of their respective immuno-oncology assets.

There’s no money terms, but we know on the study side that Nektar will be putting on the table its experimental cancer drug NKTR-214, an immunostimulatory therapy designed to expand specific cancer-fighting T cells and natural killer cells directly in the tumor microenvironment, all the while boosting expression of PD-1 on these immune cells. 

And this will be combined with Takeda’s TAK-659, a dual inhibitor of both spleen tyrosine kinase (SYK), a kinase involved in cell proliferation, and FLT-3, a cytokine receptor in the receptor tyrosine kinase class III.

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Under the collaboration, the pair will each maintain global sales rights to their respective drugs and will split the costs related to the trial, which should start in the second half of 2018, according to a joint statement.

This test will “evaluate the combination of an every-three-week schedule of NKTR-214 with oral daily doses of TAK-659 in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” the pair said. There are also plans for solid tumors down the line.

“We look forward to collaborating with Takeda to explore a range of combination therapy approaches with NKTR-214 and TAK-659 in liquid and solid tumor settings,” said Jonathan Zalevsky, Ph.D., CSO and SVP of research at Nektar, in the statement. “Importantly, this clinical collaboration will allow us to understand how we can increase the clinical benefit of immunotherapies for patients when we leverage multiple I-O modalities and target the immune cycle in complementary and novel ways.”

"Based upon highly compelling preclinical data, we are looking forward to combining Nektar's unique CD122-biased agonist with TAK-659, which is a dual inhibitor of both SYK and FLT-3," added Phil Rowlands, Ph.D., head of the Oncology Therapeutic Area Unit at Takeda, in the statement. "NKTR-214 is unique in that it can stimulate tumor-killing T-cells in the tumor microenvironment itself. By combining with TAK-659, we hope to target different stages of the cancer immunity cycle in a combination regimen. This collaboration is aimed at achieving our goal of allowing more patients with different types of cancer to benefit from immunotherapies."

This comes after the two companies formed an alliance last May to combine NKTR-214 with up to five of the Japanese pharma’s oncology compounds.

RELATED: Bristol-Myers Squibb makes history with major multibillion-dollar Nektar drug pact

This also follows on from a major combination deal Nektar struck with Bristol-Myers Squibb for the drug back in February, which sees BMS committing $3.6 billion in an upfront and biobucks to a deal that gives Nektar the lion’s share of NKTR-214 profits, while leaving it some freedom to develop the drug in combination with other assets (i.e., today’s deal). The two are working on combinations of Nektar’s drug with BMS' marketed checkpoint inhibitors Opdivo and Yervoy as Merck appears to pulling away in some cancer indications with its star PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda.

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Nektar has a hand here too, as it is also testing the drug in combination with two other checkpoint inhibitors, namely Keytruda and Roche’s Tecentriq. 

There has been some M&A buzz around the company in recent months, though the BMS deal dampened that given its size and structure.

Nektar has also had mixed fortunes over the last few months. It saw regulatory setbacks for two inhaled antibiotic programs and cancer therapy Onzeald (etirinotecan pegol) in Europe, but also positive pipeline progress and new partnerships with the likes of BMS, as well as Eli Lilly.

Nektar was off marginally this morning on the news. Takeda, meanwhile, is said to be on the brink of a $62 billion deal for Shire, after a week of offers and intrigue.