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.