Wilex (ETR:WL6) has become one of the early losers of the immuno-oncology gold rush. The blow was dealt by Roche ($RHHBY), which has axed its alliance with Wilex subsidiary Heidelberg Pharma as part of its retreat from areas of cancer R&D beyond immuno-oncology.
News of the severing of ties between the companies comes just 10 months after Roche extended the alliance. In October, Roche had seen enough potential in the first year of the collaboration to sign off on the licensing of an additional tumor target and the extension of its antibody-targeted amanitin conjugates (ATAC) research program. However, in the brief window since the deal was extended, the field of immuno-oncology has advanced rapidly, driving the hype around the science to unforeseen highs and prompting Roche to make it the focal point of its R&D efforts. ATACs are yesterday's news.
Roche reached a similar conclusion about the Pseudomonas exotoxin last month, at which time it walked away from its $1 billion (€900 million) collaboration with Molecular Partners (SWX:MOLN). While the decision was a blow to Molecular Partners, it is better positioned than Wilex to bounce back. The R&D rejig at Roche has hit Wilex hard. Shares in the tiny German biotech traded down more than 20% following the news. And Wilex has pulled forward the date at which it will run out of money by three months. Wilex now expects its bank account to run dry in the first quarter of 2016.
While Heidelberg no longer has the financial support of Roche, it still has the programs the Swiss pharma thought were worth its investment prior to its head being turned by immuno-oncology. At the end of the last financial year, Heidelberg and Roche had four ATACs in preclinical development and hopes that the candidates could outperform other antibody-drug conjugates. The idea was to use amanitin--which is found in the green death cap mushroom--to disrupt transcription in treatment-resistant tumor cells.
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