GlaxoSmithKline partners with fast-growing Zymeworks in $440M-plus deal

Vancouver-based Zymeworks has added another marquee collaboration to its growing list of development partnerships.

Zymeworks CEO Ali Tehrani

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has signed on to work with Zymeworks' antibody experts on a slate of new projects, giving the pharma giant commercialization rights on at least four programs in exchange for a package of up to $110 million in milestones for each. The companies declined to reveal the upfront payment that will be used to kick off the collaboration, which spotlights new Fc-engineered monoclonal and bispecific antibody therapeutics. 

GlaxoSmithKline has been reorganizing its R&D operations after years of lackluster performance, downsizing in the U.S. and flipping its late-stage cancer drug portfolio to Novartis ($NVS) in exchange for vaccines. Zymeworks notes that GlaxoSmithKline's interest in its antibody tech covers a range of diseases.

Zymeworks CEO Ali Tehrani has been focused on executing a series of these high-profile collaborations over the past two years. Celgene ($CELG) was lured in by the company's Azymetric research platform at the beginning of the year, which followed a pact with Eli Lilly ($LLY) on bispecific cancer immunotherapies and an expanded deal with Merck ($MRK). Both Lilly and Celgene have taken equity stakes in the biotech, which has made no secret of its interest in eventually executing an IPO as it also pursues its own in-house work.

Zymeworks' technology isn't just about being able to bind to different sites on diseased cells. It's also been working on constructing stable protein drugs that can endure for a longer stretch in the bloodstream, making it possible to come up with new drugs that may require fewer injections--a key competitive advantage--and are easier to scale up on the manufacturing side. Their proteins can also be engineered to have an "effector function," which can trigger an immune response.

"These will be new therapies leveraging our EFECT platform, which enables highly tailored (and proprietary) modulation of antibody effector function," Tehrani noted about this latest deal with GSK.

"We have been in contact with GSK over the years," he added in an email to FierceBiotech. "You can say they have watched us promise and deliver.  What tipped it over the edge this time, is the body of data we have generated for our internal programs which showcases what we can do.  And of course the deals with Merck, Lilly and Celgene (esp the latter) speaks volumes."

Zymeworks has been growing fast as it expands its collaborations and internal R&D. The staff has grown to more than 65, says the CEO, with some 20 open positions.

- here's the release