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Bristol Myers Squibb pens $475M Dragonfly pact for IL-12 program

By Ben Adams

Bristol Myers Squibb is paying nearly half a billion in near-term and upfronts to licence Dragonfly Therapeutics’ interleukin-12 (IL-12) immunotherapy program.

This program is the early-stage experimental med DF6002, a monovalent IL-12 immunoglobulin Fc fusion protein, which works by creating an inflammatory tumor microenvironment to boost anti-tumor responses.

Under the pact, BMS gets hold of this drug and is on the hook to develop and sell it, should it gain approval, and plans to test it in both solid and blood cancers.

It will pay $475 million in near-term upfronts, with extra biobucks and royalties also wedded into the deal. This adds to the 2018 pact it signed with Merck, worth nearly $700 million, also focusing on a series of solid tumor targets, and builds on the 2017 and 2018 deals Dragonfly penned with Celgene, recently bought out by BMS, which focused on a series of assets for blood cancers.

These deals honed in on its primary pipeline work, namely natural killer (NK) cell-based programs, though for BMS it is tapping its secondary focus on IL-12.

As a target, Interleukin-12 (IL-12) is a pivotal cytokine in driving the immune system, and indispensable in the defense against certain, mainly intracellular pathogens. Too much of this this cytokine, however, is linked to several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. It’s also the very thing we’ve seen in some serious COVID cases, where the body overacts to the virus and attacks itself.

BMS now hopes it can take its use into cancer, with the idea being that it can activate both innate (NK cells) and adaptive (cytotoxic T lymphocytes) immunities.

This dovetails with a test of a controlled IL-12 and its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo. Ziopharm is working on this so-called “remote-controlled” gene therapy to buy brain tumor patients more time—and early data out this year show it extended patients’ lives by more than a year.

This Controlled IL-12 was used on its own and with Opdivo, though this approach is a little different from the IL-12 play Bristol is buying into with Dragonfly.

It’s proven a difficult path to develop, as it can cause serious AEs if you get it wrong, but produce good results if you get it right. A pressing issue is delivery, but many biotechs have still struggled to find the right balance. Bristol will hope to have better luck.

“As we continue to expand our focus in oncology, we are pleased to be adding anIL-12 Fc-fusion protein to our oncology pipeline in the form of DF6002,” said Rupert Vessey, M.A., B.M., B.Ch., F.R.C.P., D.Phil., EVP and president, early R&D at Bristol.

“We look forward to our continued work with Dragonfly to further guide the program’s clinical data at this pivotal point in its development, as we continue to deliver on our commitment to serve more patients with cancer.”

“We are excited to be collaborating once again with Bristol Myers Squibb, whose broad range of oncology agents makes it a fantastic partner to accelerate the development of DF6002, the most advanced cytokine in Dragonfly’s pipeline,” added Bill Haney, co-founder and CEO of Dragonfly.


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