Amidst reaching an acquisition deal that brings Ipsen a commercialized drug for follicular lymphoma, the Paris-based drugmaker is expanding its reach in cancer through license deal which took him into a new area of drug research.
Ipsen is collaborating with Marengo Therapeutics, a startup with technology that activates T cells and makes them respond to a patient’s cancer. The agreement announced Monday covers two of Marengo’s preclinical drug candidates. Ipsen is paying $45 million upfront to begin the partnership, in which Marengo will continue to lead preclinical development by submitting an investigational new drug application to the FDA.
Marengo’s drugs are antibodies designed to activate T cells by binding to T cell receptors (TCRs) found on the surface of immune cells. There are TCR drugs on the market, as well as new ones still in development. Marengo focuses on a particular subset of TCRs. The company calls its technology the Selective T Cell Activation Repertoire, or STAR. Marengo uses STAR to target a subset of receptors called V beta TCRs. Selective binding to these TCRs does not broadly activate T cells, but instead activates select ones that are best suited to respond to the patient’s cancer. Marengo CEO Zhen Su told MedCity News last fall after the startup announced $80 million in funding.
Marengo currently lists five STAR programs in the pipeline. Ipsen and Marengo did not disclose which programs are covered by the agreement, which is the startup’s first announced partnership. The deal requires Ipsen to handle the clinical development of the partners’ drugs and the commercialization of those drugs, if approved. Ipsen could pay Marengo up to $1.6 billion in principal payments, plus sales royalties.
“Marengo’s fundamental discovery of T cell subset activation via TCR V beta is unprecedented and highly differentiated from current immuno-oncology technologies we’ve seen,” said Howard Meyer, executive vice president and head of R&D at Ipsen, in a prepared statement.
Ipsen’s oncology portfolio includes Cabometyx, a small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor that has approvals for advanced kidney, thyroid and liver cancer. In collaboration with the drug’s developer, Exelixis, Ipsen has rights to the drug outside of North America and Japan. Ipsen has turned to dealmaking as a way to further expand its presence in the cancer space. Last summer, Ipsen vested rights to a preclinical small molecule that BAKX Therapeutics was developing for leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumors. In June, Ipsen struck a deal to acquire Epizyme for $247 million. Epizyme’s commercial follicular lymphoma drug, Tazverik, is a small molecule that targets a particular enzyme key to tumor growth.
Marengo’s lead program, STAR0602, is about to reach the clinic. The startup said it expects to introduce a new drug research app by the end of this year.