Immunocore and Lilly strike a risk-sharing deal in oncology R&D

Immunocore Chief Business Officer Eva-Lotta Allan

Immunocore has struck another cancer R&D pact with one of the world's top drugmakers, signing a deal with Eli Lilly ($LLY) that'll both bring in short-term revenue and help the biotech build value in its proprietary pipeline.

Under the latest agreement, Immunocore and Lilly will team up on drug discovery, using the biotech's ImmTAC technology to spotlight treatments that can marshal the body's T cells to home in on cancer and spare healthy tissue. The two have agreed on some prespecified cancer targets, and Lilly is on the line to pay out $15 million for each discovered ImmTAC, getting it into preclinical development.

From there, if Lilly likes a preclinical package, it'll hand Immunocore another $10 million opt-in payment, giving the biotech the option to co-develop the candidate and share costs and profits 50-50. If Immunocore passes on that option, it'll still be in line for milestone and royalty payments.

Unlike Immunocore's previous agreements with AstraZeneca ($AZN), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech, the new agreement goes beyond royalties and gives the biotech the chance to build some internal value, Chief Business Officer Eva-Lotta Allan said, reflecting the next stage in its development as a company.

"This is us maturing in terms of our deal strategy," Allan told FierceBiotech.

And don't expect to see any more agreements any time soon, she said. After pairing up with AstraZeneca in January, Immunocore decided that it would only strike another deal if it could take a major seat at the table. That fit right in with the aims of Lilly's oncology team, and Allan said the partners have their priorities aligned headed into the collaboration.

But, from here on out, Immunocore has crossed out research deals, looking instead at asset-based partnerships. The company is in the midst of a Phase II trial on IMCgp100, its wholly owned melanoma treatment, expecting to finalize results by year's end.

Meanwhile, the field of immuno-oncology has taken center stage in biopharma R&D, led by a high-profile race between Merck ($MRK), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and others in the world of anti-PD-1 antibodies, and some promising early work from Novartis ($NVS) and a growing list of rivals in the CAR-T space, which involves reengineering a patient's own T cells.

But those technologies can only latch onto the proteins on the surface of cancer cells, Allan said, which account for roughly 10% of all oncology targets. ImmTACs, on the other hand, can address intracellular antigens, a difference Allan said helps account for the company's sudden popularity.

"The phone keeps ringing," she said. "It's a nice position to be in to be selective in who you choose to work with."

And Lilly, the latest choice, is betting Immunocore's technology can shepherd it into the immuno-oncology space, in which it lags behind Merck, Roche and others.

"The major goal and challenge of cancer immunotherapy is to direct the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer," Lilly Executive Vice President Jan Lundberg said in a statement. "We believe Immunocore's ImmTAC platform has the potential to do just that."

- read the release

Special Reports: 2013 Fierce 15 - Immunocore | Top women in biotech 2013 - Eva-Lotta Allan

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