Zymeworks, Daiichi end $293M bispecific collab after 6 unfruitful years

After more than six years, Zymeworks and Daiichi Sankyo have agreed to part ways from an immuno-oncology agreement that once had the potential to bring in more than $293 million in biobucks.

In 2016, Zymeworks granted Daiichi access to its Azymetric platform for generating bispecific antibodies. While the initial deal value wasn't undisclosed, the two companies expanded the agreement in 2018, 2021 and 2022 and brought the total potential value of the deal up to $293.3 million. The expanded deal gave Daiichi the right to use Azymetric, plus another platform, in the development of six bispecific antibodies.

Despite the hefty amounts up for grabs, the deal only ever brought Zymeworks a total of $6.5 million in payments—most of which were handed over in 2019 when Daiichi picked an antibody to focus on. It still leaves almost $287 million in potential milestone payments unclaimed.

Despite the end of the deal, the termination agreement by the two companies means Zymeworks retains the nonexclusive royalty-bearing rights to develop and commercialize products using Daiichi’s immuno-oncology antibodies. In turn, Daiichi will keep the license “to certain Zymeworks intellectual property to perform additional research” for around another 18 months.

Zymeworks' Azymetric technology works by doubling up on a drug’s potential target, offering a complementary approach to the Efect platform, a library of antibody Fc modifications that can be used to orchestrate an immune response: either turning it up or tamping it down.

The company gave no reason for the termination of its Daiichi deal in its Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday. However, Zymeworks confirmed to Fierce Biotech that it had been informed that Daiichi had deprioritized its development efforts under the agreement.

The agreement with Daiichi was part of a multiyear dealmaking roll for Zymeworks. At the time, Zymeworks inked agreements with Janssen related to six bispecific antibodies as well as an R&D pact with the University of Victoria and BC Cancer Agency to develop engineered cytokine and cytokine receptor pairs. Since then, the company has continued to be active on the collaboration front, most recently receiving $375 million from Jazz Pharmaceuticals for the license to the bispecific antibody zanidatamab.

However, last year remained tougher terrain for Zymeworks, which saw around a quarter of staff laid off under the leadership of incoming CEO Kenneth Galbraith and his focus on zanidatamab and the early-phase bispecific HER2‑targeted antibody-drug conjugate ZW49.

Last Friday certainly seemed like a good day to dump bad deal news, with Sangamo revealing that both Novartis and Biogen had opted to end their partnerships with the gene-based therapy biotech.