Pierre Fabre dives into hot PD-1 field with a biotech tie-up

French pharma outfit Pierre Fabre has teamed up with Indian biotech Aurigene to get its hands on a PD-1 checkpoint modulator, following a burgeoning trend in cancer drug development.

Under the deal, Pierre Fabre gets exclusive ex-India rights to AUNP-12, an in-development PD-1 blocker with applications in numerous cancers, the company said. Aurigene is due an undisclosed upfront sum and a line of milestone payments tied to development, regulatory and commercial successes.

Unlike the PD-1-blocking monoclonal antibodies from Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), AUNP-12 is a peptide therapeutic, which Pierre Fabre said could open it up to safer and more effective combinations with other cancer drugs. The treatment, currently in IND studies, successfully inhibited tumor growth and metastasis in preclinical models, Aurigene said, and has thus far been well-tolerated with no overt toxicity.

And for Pierre Fabre, which bills itself as France's third-largest pharma company, the deal represents a leap into the much-lauded PD-1 field as the company works to expand its pipeline of promising therapies, CEO Bertrand Parmentier said.

"This agreement, in the field of oncology, is fully consistent with our vision to build Pierre Fabre future in prescription drugs, from a combination of cutting-edge internal R&D capabilities and license partnerships with innovative biotech companies like Aurigene," Parmentier said in a statement.

Last year, the Castres, France-headquartered company won FDA approval for its antidepressant Fetzima, licensed out to Forest Laboratories ($FRX).

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