Pfizer was tripped up a couple years ago, when safety concerns emerged around the first drug ever approved that could combine the targeting ability of an antibody with a toxin to give it more tumor-killing kick. But the New York-based pharma giant still sees potential in the field of souped-up antibody drugs, and it’s seeking help from South San Francisco-based CytomX Therapeutics, a startup aiming to make potent, but safer, drugs of this kind.
CytomX is announcing today that it has formed a partnership with Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) to help the bigger company develop multiple antibody-drug conjugate products, against multiple molecular targets, to fight cancer. The little company is eligible to get up to $25 million through upfront payments, research payments, and for hitting certain near-term goals in animal testing. In a best-case scenario, CytomX could collect as much as $610 million if the fruits of the collaboration reach certain regulatory and sales goals, plus royalties on future product sales. Pfizer will pay the bills for clinical development and commercialization of any drugs that come from the partnership.
Pfizer is expressing growing interest in one of the hotter fields in biotech today, in which scientists are designing antibodies to be more potent than ever before against tumors. Pfizer inherited the first drug in this class, gemtuzumab ozogamicin (Mylotarg), through its 2009 acquisition of Wyeth, but scientists believe it failed to deliver on the concept because it didn’t have a stable enough linker to keep the antibody and drug intact long enough in the bloodstream so it could hit the tumor. The drug was pulled off the market in 2010, but since then, interest has only grown in the field. Seattle Genetics won FDA clearance for an empowered antibody against rare lymphomas, and Roche/Genentech more recently got cleared to sell trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), a souped-up version of its original “naked” antibody marketed as Herceptin.
“Interest in the industry is intensifying if anything,” said CytomX CEO Sean McCarthy (pictured above). “The approval of Kadcyla is continuing to galvanize the industry to drive forward.” He adds: “We’re obviously thrilled with this deal, it’s a big step forward for the company.”
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