The three highest-value licensing deals signed so far this year establish or expand partnerships to leverage proprietary platforms to develop new cancer therapies. Two of these deals involve the development of treatments that harness the ability of immune cells and antibodies to attack tumor cells, while the other focuses on small-molecule drugs.

Through its collaboration with Immatics, BMS is developing next-generation allogeneic or ‘off-the-shelf’ cell therapies. Rather than genetically engineer a patient’s own T cells to recognize and bind to proteins found on the surface of certain cancer cells (autologous cell therapies), allogeneic therapies use cells from healthy donors, and so can be manufactured at a lower cost and on a much larger scale. Immatics’ proprietary platform is based on gamma delta T cells, which are constantly monitoring the body for signs of biological stress, such as cancerous cells. Promising preclinical and clinical findings with gamma delta T cell therapies have led several pharma companies to pursue such products.

Sanofi is hedging its bets, investing on the one hand in a new class of antibody therapeutics that are based on immunoglobulin M (IgM) molecules, which can bind very strongly to difficult targets such as tumor-associated antigens and antigens expressed at low levels, and on the other hand in small-molecule drugs discovered by harnessing Exscientia’s artificial intelligence (AI)-driven platform.

IGM Biosciences has started clinical trials with two IgM candidates for the treatment of patients with CD20-positive cancers (IGM-2323) and solid and hematologic malignancies (IGM-8444). Unlike traditional IgG antibodies, IgMs can bind multiple targets simultaneously on the surface of tumor cells and create apoptotic signals that ultimately lead to the death of cancer cells. In partnership with Sanofi, IGM Biosciences will pursue antibody therapeutics against both oncology and immunology/inflammation targets.

Under the agreement with Exscientia, Sanofi will pursue up to 15 AI-driven small-molecule anticancer drugs. By incorporating primary human tissue samples into early target and drug discovery research, the platform facilitates a ‘patient-first’ approach that could lead to medicines that are better targeted to individual patients and are developed in shorter time frames.

BMS expands alliance with Immatics

Deal announced: 2 June 2022

Deal value: $4.2 billion

Deal background:

• Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) expands its collaboration with Immatics to develop multiple cancer immunotherapies using Immatics’ proprietary gamma delta T cell-derived, allogeneic Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT) platform, ACTallo.

• Under the agreement, the companies will develop two new off-the-shelf programs that will be owned by BMS. Immatics will work on preclinical development and BMS will be responsible for clinical development and commercialization of these programs. Both companies have an option to develop up to four additional programs.

• The deal also expands the companies’ 2019 agreement focused on the development of an autologous T cell receptor (TCR)-based therapy, with the inclusion of one additional TCR target discovered by Immatics.

Sanofi and IGM Biosciences to develop IgM antibodies

Deal announced: 29 March 2022

Deal value: $6.15 billion

Deal background:

• Sanofi and IGM Biosciences will develop a new class of antibody therapeutics against three oncology targets and three immunology/inflammation targets using IGM Biosciences’ IgM technology platform. Engineered IgM antibodies have ten target binding sites, compared to two for IgG antibodies.

• For each oncology target, IGM Biosciences will lead research and development activities and apply for marketing approval. If approved, Sanofi will be responsible for all subsequent development and commercialization activities.

• For each immunology/inflammation target, IGM Biosciences will lead research and development activities until completion of phase 1 trials for up to two constructs against each immunology/inflammation target, after which Sanofi will be responsible for all future development and related costs.

Sanofi and Exscientia to develop AI-driven cancer medicines

Deal announced: 7 January 2022

Deal value: $5.2 billion

Deal background:

• Sanofi and Exscientia have entered a research collaboration and license agreement to develop up to 15 novel small-molecule drug candidates for cancer and immune-mediated diseases leveraging Exscientia’s end-to-end AI-driven platform and patient samples.

• Exscientia will lead target discovery efforts, small-molecule drug design and lead optimization activities up to development candidate nomination; Sanofi will then head preclinical and clinical development, manufacturing and commercialization.

• Sanofi has signed previous agreements with Exscientia in 2016 and in 2019, when Sanofi in-licensed Exscientia’s novel bispecific small-molecule candidate capable of targeting two distinct targets in inflammation and immunology.