Aduro adds checkpoint inhibitors to a 'breakthrough' mix in $32M buyout

Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs

With a combo of its lead cancer drugs already designated as a breakthrough worthy of VIP treatment at the FDA, Aduro Biotech ($ADRO) has now added in-house checkpoint inhibitors to the mix. The Berkeley, CA-based biotech announced Thursday after the markets closed that it is acquiring the Dutch biotech BioNovion for $32 million evenly divided between cash and stock.

The deal nets them a preclinical pipeline of antibodies that includes some fledgling checkpoint inhibitors, according to CEO Stephen Isaacs. The package contributes therapies that target PD-1 as well as CTLA-4, both well-known objectives for drug developers working to unleash an immune system attack on cancer. And it's bringing the full 24-person staff on board in The Netherlands to keep them focused on a collaboration with Genmab and a scientific partnership that includes Dana-Farber and the Dutch Cancer Institute.

"We looked for something we might bolt on that made sense with our core technologies," notes Isaac in an interview with FierceBiotech. And it just made a lot of sense to add in antibody technology that gives the company a unique mix of in-house R&D capabilities. This way, he adds, the company will be in a position to bring in new drugs with new targets, rather than just the 8th PD-1 program.

Aduro, a 2014 Fierce 15 honoree, already has two high-profile drugs in the clinic. CRS-207 uses the tumor antigen mesothelin to spur a targeted attack on cancer cells. That drug has been added to the cancer vaccine GVAX, a treatment that is intended to amp up an immune system attack, while checkpoint inhibitors take off some of the brakes that prevent an assault. Mixing these strategies together has become a favorite practice in the cancer drug field as biopharma companies look to combat tumors more effectively.

In Aduro's case, the biotech has already started to explore the checkpoint option in a collaboration involving Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Opdivo (nivolumab). With BioNovion, Aduro is gaining the expertise of BioNovion CSO Andrea van Elsas, a veteran in the immuno-oncology field with stints at Organon and Schering, who helped lead the development of Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

"We believe the cutting-edge immuno-oncology research and development at Aduro is a perfect complement to our efforts at BioNovion. We envision the blend of our culture and technologies will produce new and powerful combination approaches to treat cancer and other diseases," said van Elsas, a founder of BioNovion, in a release.

Adding BioNovion to Aduro brings the total staff roster to 108, says Isaacs, with further growth likely to boost that number to 125 to 130 by the end of the year. Isaacs says his new antibodies will hit the clinic in late 2016 or early 2017, with new combinations following sometime after that.

- here's the release

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Aduro BioTech