Tesaro pays $17M to team with AnaptysBio on cancer immunotherapies

AnaptysBio CEO Hamza Suria

Tesaro is making a move into the hot cancer immunotherapy field, paying $17 million upfront and offering milestones worth hundreds of millions more to work with AnaptysBio on a portfolio of antibodies that could be used in combination with its own pipeline drugs. And while one of the targets is PD-1, a popular subject in a field now dominated by Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Merck ($MRK), a pair of less familiar targets is also included in the package.

Tesaro ($TSRO), a 2011 Fierce 15 winner which had raised a considerable amount of cash since its launch, gets the rights to antibodies that target TIM-3 and LAG-3 as well as PD-1. And they get dual reactive antibody candidates that target the combo targets of PD-1/LAG-3 and PD-1/TIM-3. In addition to the milestone, AnaptysBio gets development funds, a potential $18 million in milestones for their research work and up to $90 million in milestones for approval--on each program.

"We've been developing these antibodies since last year," AnaptysBio CEO Hamza Suria tells FierceBiotech. LAG-3 and TIM-3 are "also checkpoint inhibitors used in the immune system to put the brakes on immune response."

For San Diego-based AnaptysBio, a 2013 Fierce 15 winner, the deal marks the biggest single upfront payment yet from a partner. The antibody developer has teamed up with a roster of industry majors like Roche ($RHHBY), Celgene ($CELG) and Merck. And even if Tesaro isn't the same size as its other partners, top executives Lonnie Moulder and Mary Lynne Hedley proved to Suria that they were determined to go after combo immunotherapy cancer treatments with considerable zeal.

"They have the opportunity to move rapidly without the encumbrances of an ultra-large organization and the bureaucracy of an ultra-large organization," says Suria, adding that they had a number of bidders at the bargaining table for this particular deal.

AnaptysBio has been steadily building its reputation in the field of designer antibodies, engineering the tips of its antibodies to bind to multiple targets. Their work has built on the efforts of the company's scientific founders: Michael Neuberger at Cambridge University, Matthew Scharff of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who's been working in the field for 40 years, and Nick Lydon, the former head of small-molecule drug discovery at Amgen ($AMGN).

Waltham, MA-based Tesaro, meanwhile, has had its ups and downs in the cancer field. Late last year the biotech managed to underwhelm investors with disappointing late-stage results for its top cancer drug rolapitant. The drug hit its primary endpoints but failed to score key secondary goals as well. Tesaro managed a successful $81 million IPO in 2012, well before the current boom got started. And the former MGI team that launched the company went on to scoop up an additional $91 million in a followup offering last spring. 

"These antibody candidates are being developed to address some of the most validated and promising targets in immuno-oncology," says Hedley in a statement. "We are also interested in evaluating combinations of these antibodies with TSR-011, our ALK/TRK inhibitor, and niraparib, our PARP inhibitor, in addition to other anti-tumor agents with complementary mechanisms, such as immune modulating agents. The first clinical trial from this collaboration is projected to begin in the second half of 2015, and we expect to advance an additional candidate into clinical trials every one to two quarters thereafter."

- here's the release

Special Reports: 2011 Fierce 15 - Tesaro | 2013 Fierce 15 - AnaptysBio