Bristol Myers Squibb is paying nearly half a billion dollars in up front and near-term payments to license an early-stage immunotherapy developed by Dragonfly Therapeutics, a firm that’s already a partner on potential treatments in oncology and other disease areas.
Bristol plans a $475 million outlay for an exclusive global license to an investigational immunotherapy program focused on IL-12, an immune-stimulating protein, developed by the Waltham, MA-based firm. Dragonfly is also eligible for more payments, tied to development, regulatory and commercial milestones, plus royalties if Bristol commercializes any drugs as part of the collaboration. The companies didn’t disclosed the total value of the milestone payments.
The deal’s centerpiece is DF6002, a version of IL-12 that Dragonfly has engineered to last longer in the body. Dragonfly designed the drug candidate, a type of protein known as a cytokine, to make it easier for the immune system to attack tumors by changing the composition of the tumor microenvironment—the complex mixture of cells, blood vessels, and more that surrounds cancer cells and interacts with them in ways that impacts their growth. Prolonging the cytokine’s biological activity is intended to improve its anti-tumor effects.
The FDA cleared Dragonfly to begin human tests of DF6002 in May; a month ago the company announced it had dosed its first patient in a Phase 1/2 study evaluating the drug by itself as well in combination with another immunotherapy, a so-called checkpoint inhibitor designed to block the PD-1 pathway, in patients with solid tumors. Dragonfly co-founder and CEO Bill Haney, in a prepared statement, said the partnership with Bristol makes particular sense given the larger company’s range of cancer drugs.
Bristol plans to evaluate DF6002 as a potential treatment for cancers and blood disorders. Under the deal terms the New York pharma takes on responsibility for the development and commercialization of that drug candidate plus any related products.
Engineered cytokines are also an area of interest for other biopharmas. Sanofi (NASDAQ: SNY) spent $2.5 billion on Synthorx, a San Diego biotech, in December for its immunotherapies, including an engineered version of another cytokine, IL-2.
The Dragonfly IL-12 drug is the second candidate the biotech has brought into clinical testing. Last fall the company began a Phase 1/2 study of its most advanced immunotherapy in patients with solid tumors that express human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, a protein better known as HER2. That potential treatment is based on natural killer cells, which are the focus of the initial partnership that Bristol inherited from Celgene. Read more about Dragonfly’s origins, partnerships, and previous work with Bristol.