Partnerless Aveo is back on the hunt as Biogen returns a cancer drug

With the departure of Astellas and now Biogen Idec ($BIIB), Aveo Oncology ($AVEO) is fresh out of collaborators, sending the struggling biotech back to the partnering table as it looks to advance an early-stage cancer drug.

Ending a 5-year partnership, Aveo has regained worldwide rights to AV-203, an ErbB3-targeting antibody previously optioned by Biogen for an undisclosed sum. Last year, the drug cleared a Phase I study with no dose-limiting toxicities, and Aveo said it has shown promise in tumor models of breast, head and neck, lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers. Biogen owned the ex-U.S. rights to AV-203, and, in taking the drug back, Aveo will owe its former partner a percentage of any future milestone payments and single-digit royalties totaling no more than $50 million.

In keeping with these sorts of disclosures, Aveo sounded a giddy tone, with Chief Business Officer Michael Bailey saying the company is "pleased" to get the drug back from Biogen, as it can now "seek a partner with established oncology capabilities that can accelerate and financially support the clinical development of AV-203."

And financial support will likely be necessary. Aveo closed out 2013 with about $118.5 million, and now that Astellas has finally walked away from the troubled cancer treatment tivozanib, there won't be any more partnering revenue coming in. Aveo's current bankroll should keep the doors open through the first half of next year, the company has said.

With the Biogen deal done, AV-203 joins a pile of drugs for which Aveo is "actively seeking collaboration opportunities."

Leading the way now is AV-380, a preclinical treatment for cancer-related weight loss that the company said could have applications in chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Then there's ficlatuzumab, a drug that missed a key endpoint in a 2012 trial in non-small cell lung cancer, for which Aveo is touting some positive subpopulation results.

And finally there's tivozanib, the drug that failed to win FDA approval in renal cell carcinoma and then endured clinical setbacks in colorectal and breast cancers, leading Astellas to back out of its Aveo partnership after three years. In its annual report, Aveo said it "plans to explore potential partnership opportunities for the further clinical development of tivozanib."

- read the release
- here's more on the deal

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