Syndax adds Genentech PD-L1 'atezo' combo pact to its growing pipeline

Syndax CEO Briggs Morrison

Genentech has agreed to lend its closely-watched checkpoint inhibitor atezolizumab to Syndax for a combo study with the Waltham, MA-based biotech's lead drug entinostat for triple-negative breast cancer, just three days after Syndax landed an $80 million crossover round.

Atezolizumab (MPDL3280A) is in the second tier of checkpoint inhibitors behind Opdivo and Keytruda, from Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Merck ($MRK). Syndax will be responsible for a Phase Ib/II combo study--the latest in a long lineup of match-ups in the cancer field that pair these immuno-oncology stars with a targeted treatment. If that study works out, the two companies have a deal to push ahead into a Phase III trial, with more combinations for other cancer types as well.

Atezolizumab is already in a long string of late-stage studies as Roche ($RHHBY) pushes ahead to see if it can break into the front ranks of the key players in this field. Syndax, meanwhile, has been making a series of quick moves of its own, adding AstraZeneca ($AZN) CMO Briggs Morrison to the CEO's post while lining up a fresh injection of cash from some familiar crossover players that have been giving a big boost to the biotech IPO scene.

AstraZeneca, of course, has its own checkpoint inhibitor in play, which could be a sensitive topic at Syndax.

Entinostat--an HDAC inhibitor designed to rein in cancer cell growth--is already partnered with Merck's Keytruda. Both atezolizumab (PD-L1) and Keytruda (PD1) target separate arms involved in creating a barrier to an immune system response. Syndax shelved an attempted IPO ahead of the CEO move. But their C round likely signaled that a new attempt to go public is in the offing, with its lead drug--which was awarded a breakthrough drug designation by the FDA--in Phase III for breast cancer. Syndax, though, will be testing the market after a serious disruption roiled markets around the globe.

"Clinical development collaborations with industry leaders are an essential element of our strategy to realize the full potential of entinostat and position Syndax at the forefront of next-generation immuno-oncology therapy," said Morrison, who's been keeping a low public profile since leaving AstraZeneca, in a statement. "This collaboration expands our emerging immuno-oncology program into an important new indication. We are looking forward to collaborating with Genentech to study atezolizumab and entinostat in a breast cancer population with few treatment options."

- here's the release