CRO SillaJen eyes $150M deal for ex-sponsor

As CROs around the world weigh the benefits of developing their own therapies, South Korea's SillaJen has signed a deal worth up to $150 million to acquire former client Jennerex and inherit the company's Phase III-ready cancer vaccine.

Under the agreement, Jennerex will become a subsidiary of the SillaJen, and Pexa-Vec, an oncolytic cancer vaccine co-developed with France's Transgene, will become the CRO's top development priority. That's promising news for a drug that looked doomed just a few months ago: In September, Jennerex and Transgene announced that Pexa-Vec's Phase IIb failed the primary endpoint of overall survival in advanced liver cancer, saying they'd make a decision on whether to move forward by year's end.

Now, SillaJen has stepped in with no mention of the mid-stage setback, snapping up a biotech it has known since 2007 and touting Pexa-Vec's potential in multiple tumor types.

"In a randomized Phase II trial, as published in Nature Medicine in February 2013, Pexa-Vec demonstrated an overall survival advantage as first-line therapy for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma," CEO Eun-Sang Moon said in a statement. "Given the high unmet medical need in this patient population, these initial results are highly encouraging and warrant confirmation in a Phase III trial."

Whether Pexa-Vec can succeed in late-stage study remains to be seen, but many in the CRO world will likely be watching to see how SillaJen transitions into the world of non-contract drug development. Many in the industry have enough capacity to go it alone and advance compounds of their own, but few ever have, citing high risks and a distaste for competing with clients. Some, like Ergomed, have inked profit-sharing co-development deals with their sponsors, expanding the traditional relationship without taking on sole responsibility.

- read the announcement