Supercharged Herceptin Nears Pivot Point, as ImmunoGen, Roche Await Data on Breast Cancer “Smart Bomb”

12/7/09Follow @xconomy

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its own product if it can supplant the old one with something better.

“They really want the best compound possible in the market,” Junius says.

If T-DM1 can replace the original trastuzumab, that’s certainly the best-case scenario for ImmunoGen, because it stands to collect royalties on the new drug but gets nothing on the old one. The newer version is also likely to be higher priced, Junius says. But ImmunoGen doesn’t exactly stand to get super-rich either. Even though the ImmunoGen antibody-toxin linking technology is absolutely critical to the drug’s success, the company only stands to receive a “mid-single digit” percentage cut of worldwide product sales, Junius says.

When I said that sounded pretty puny compared to other deals I’ve seen small biotechs negotiate with big companies, Junius didn’t try to correct me, but he did place the deal in context. ImmunoGen basically wasn’t in nearly as strong of a bargaining position when the original deal was struck with Genentech in May 2000 as it is now, he says. (Genentech is now part of Roche).

“This deal was entered into in 2000, when success was just a gleam in their eye then,” says Junius, who became CEO on January 1. But given what is now known about the drug’s effectiveness, he acknowledges, “it’s an attractive deal for them, for sure.”

So ImmunoGen hopes to capitalize on the success in other ways. It has recently sold a pair of technology licenses for the linking technology to one of Roche’s competitors, Amgen. And ImmunoGen is trying to build up its own portfolio of supercharged antibodies for which it owns 100 percent of the commercial rights. To hear Junius tell the story, the success of TDM1 will assure that the next batch of deals will be struck on more favorable terms.

“Big Pharma is looking for all kinds of new solutions as they take a serious look at oncology and at antibodies,” Junius says. “We are having dialogue with everyone. [TDM1] has really been a means of gaining leverage. It’s really done a lot for us from a validation standpoint.”

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