During 2023, we have witnessed several significant business deals involving Antibody-drug conjugates (ADC), both in preclinical and clinical phase. This signals a continued strong interest in the field. AbbVie made a multi-billion dollar acquisition of ImmunoGen, Merck entered into a development agreement with Daiichi, and Pfizer acquired Seagen for a record amount. Evy Lundgren-Åkerlund, CEO of ADC developer Targinta, shares her analysis.
Oncology is the largest and fastest-growing therapy area in the biopharma industry. A particularly hot development area is Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), where a cytotoxic molecule is conjugated to an antibody that targets specific cancer cells.
By combining targeted antibodies with chemotherapy, the drug can be delivered directly to the cancer cells. This minimises the damage to healthy, thus increasing the effect of the treatment while reducing side effects.
Several license agreements and acquisitions made in 2023
The FDA has approved more than 10 ADCs since the first approval in 2000, but there are still many candidates in preclinical and clinical development, catching the attention of Big Pharma. In 2023, we have seen a wave of business agreements in the ADC area, including collaborations, licensing agreements and acquisitions.
According to DeciBio, a total of 76 ADC deals were made in 2023, reflecting the market’s positive view of ADCs. The majority of the deals (37) were licensing agreements, with the range with total values ranging from USD 120 million to USD 2.5 billion.
Examples of Deals
Particularly noteworthy was Pfizer‘s acquisition of Seagen for USD 43 billion, announced in March 2023 and finalised in December. This marks the largest transaction in the biopharma sector since 2019. Another significant example is AbbVie‘s acquisition of Immunogen for USD 10.1 billion, giving AbbVie access to the FDA-approved ADC Elahere, along with Immunogen’s ADC expertise and technology.
Another major deal was Merck‘s collaboration agreement with Daiichi Sankyo, with a potential value of USD 22 billion. The agreement was announced in October, a notably busy month in the ADC field with numerous partnerships, including GSK/Hansoh Pharmaceutical, BioNTech/MediLink, Lilly/Mablink, Merck/Hengrui, and Endeavor/Hummingbird.
Adding to this trend, MediLink Therapeutics and Roche recently announced a collaboration and licensing agreement for the development of next generation ADCs. Orion and Glykos Finland have also entered into a similar agreement in early 2024.
Preclinical assets generate interest
Just before the turn of the year, Nona Biosciences announced that they had entered into a global licensing agreement with Pfizer for HBM9033, a preclinical ADC candidate targeting mesothelin (MSLN).
The interest in preclinical ADC candidates is rapidly increasing. In the first half of 2023, nine of the licensing agreements were in the preclinical phase, according to GlobalData. One of the deals was AstraZeneca‘s USD 600 million deal with Chinese La Nova for its preclinical candidate LM-305. Another example is Bristol Myers Squibb’s licensing agreement with Tubulis, valued at over USD 1 billion, providing BMS access to Tubulis‘ platform for generation of ADCs.
Targinta develops targeted antibodies for aggressive cancers
A Swedish company that also focuses on the development of antibody-based therapies is Targinta. The company is developing the drug candidate TARG9, an integrin α10β1 targeting ADC armed with a toxin that kills cancer cells. Integrin α10β1 is a new target molecule found on the cell surface of aggressive cancers, such as triple-negative breast cancer and glioblastoma.
Insights from Targinta’s CEO
BioStock reached out to Targinta’s CEO Evy Lundgren-Åkerlund to find out more about the company’s ADC technology and the potential for future deals:
First of all, what is your reflection on the high level of activity and the large number of deals in the ADC space in 2023?
– We can confirm that there is a huge interest in the development of ADC cancer treatments right now and that Targinta has made the right investment. What is particularly interesting for Targinta is that a large part of the deals are made already in the preclinical phase, at a similar stage where Targinta’s ADCs are in.
»We can confirm that there is a huge interest in the development of ADC cancer treatments right now and that Targinta has made the right investment.«
What do you think is driving the interest in this area?
– One reason is that ADC technology has advanced significantly in recent years with more potent payloads (chemotherapeutic agents) and improved chemistry in conjugation techniques. This has made ADCs safer, with less risk of the cytotoxic agent detaching before reaching cancer cells. Another crucial reason is that several ADCs have been approved, leading to sales success and blockbuster status for many companies.
What qualities does your candidate, TARG9, have that differentiate it from other ADCs?
– An important characteristic that makes our ADC, TARG9, unique is its targeting of a novel cancer cell surface molecule, integrin α10β1. This introduces a new treatment concept for several highly aggressive and currently challenging-to-treat forms of cancer. We have discovered that integrin α10β1 is strongly expressed in triple-negative breast cancer cells and in the glioblastoma tumour cells. In preclinical cancer models, TARG9 has demonstrated effective killing of cancer cells and reduction in tumor growth. A significant advantage is that integrin α10β1 is mostly absent in most normal tissues, reducing the risk of undesirable treatment effects.
– I also want to mention our other drug candidate, TARG10, which binds to a different site on integrin α10β1 than TARG9 and possesses function-blocking properties. In preclinical studies, we have demonstrated effective inhibition of tumor growth both as a standalone antibody and as an ADC, providing exciting possibilities in the ongoing ADC development and in discussions with potential partners/licensees.
How do you assess your chances of entering future agreements?
– Considering the significant interest in novel target molecules and unique target-seeking ADCs, we believe that Targinta has substantial opportunities to establish commercial agreements, potentially already in the preclinical phase. Through integrin α10β1, Targinta has a new cancer target with robust preclinical results. Moreover, our patent portfolio protects this target molecule for antibody-based treatment and diagnostics.
»Considering the significant interest in novel target molecules and unique target-seeking ADCs, we believe that Targinta has substantial opportunities to establish commercial agreements, potentially already in the preclinical phaset«
– We have previously communicated our plans to conduct clinical phase 0 studies (microdosing) with TARG9 and TARG10 to demonstrate that the antibodies effectively target tumours in cancer patients, further validating our target molecule and treatment concept. This would reduce the risk in the ongoing clinical development of the drug candidates and is expected to enhance the project’s value.
What are Targinta’s main goals and focus for 2024?
– The results achieved by Targinta in recent years indicate unique opportunities to develop a new treatment for several aggressive and deadly cancer types that currently lack effective treatment methods. The substantial interest in the ADC field provides us with additional motivation to, during 2024, secure a solid funding solution for the continued development of Targinta’s ADCs and simultaneously intensify efforts to find a licensee and/or collaborative partner.The content of BioStock’s news and analyses is independent but the work of BioStock is to a certain degree financed by life science companies. The above article concerns a company from which BioStock has received financing.