Patrick Soon-Shiong plucks another cancer drug out of Amgen's pipeline

Patrick Soon-Shiong

Nine months after Patrick Soon-Shiong struck a deal to acquire the global rights to a failed cancer drug at Amgen ($AMGN), the biotech billionaire has come back for a second oncology program. Soon-Shiong's NantPharma has in-licensed Amgen's AMG 337, a mid-stage MET inhibitor in the clinic for gastric cancer.

As in the first pact, neither party revealed any details about the financials. But Soon-Shiong has boasted that LA-based NantPharma has the kind of genomics expertise that will allow the company to identify specific subsets of patients that could benefit from these cancer drugs.

Highlighting his new clinical approach, Soon-Shiong's company noted that c-Met expression is thought to be a "leading resistance factor to targeted therapies such as the EGFR inhibitor gefitinib and to chemotherapies. The complexity of cell signaling pathways activated by c-Met and functionally-related cell surface receptors and effectors have confounded researchers and clinicians, and are believed to have led to the difficulties in identifying the subset of patients in a timely manner who could benefit from drugs targeting c-Met."

Soon-Shiong has been on a deal spree over the past year, building NantPharma into an oncology player with a distinctive pipeline while pushing his newly acquired and renamed NantKwest ($NK) to a record $2.6 billion IPO.

"We believe our tumor molecular profiling capability is uniquely positioned to fulfill the promise of AMG 337 as a drug that targets c-Met and treats patients whose cancer expresses a responsive molecular profile," Soon-Shiong said in a statement. That's the same direction that Soon-Shiong took when he in-licensed AMG 479 (ganitumab), which failed a Phase III study for pancreatic cancer in 2012. In May he bagged Cynviloq, a cancer drug from Sorrento, in a $1.3 billion deal.

NantKwest believes that it can coordinate an NK (natural killer) cell as well as a T cell attack on cancer, using a PD-L1 antibody. And because their activated NK cells don't have to be extracted from the patient, Soon-Shiong believes they could vault past the pioneers and into the leadership at a crossroads of hot new cancer drug technologies. 

While Soon-Shiong has been beefing up his biotechs' pipelines, Amgen has been slimming down. Earlier this year the big biotech executed a major R&D reorganization and followed up by downsizing Onyx and absorbing its remaining operations. 

- here's the release