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ImmunoGen Surges on $440M Takeda Deal For “Smart Bomb” Cancer Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

ImmunoGen’s claim to fame has been its role in making a “smart bomb” cancer drug that Roche subsidiary Genentech sells for breast cancer. Now it’s hoping for a repeat performance with a new partner, Takeda.

Waltham, MA-based ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN) cut a deal with Japan’s Takeda this morning that gives the Japanese firm exclusive rights to up to two cancer drugs developed with ImmunoGen’s antibody-drug conjugate, or ADC technology. ImmunoGen gets $20 million up front, and stands to receive another $210 million in future payments, as well as royalties, per drug. Takeda would pay an unspecified additional fee if it exercises an option to add a third program to the deal.

Takeda will handle all of the development, manufacturing, and commercialization of any drugs that come out of the deal. Shares of ImmunoGen surged 21 percent in pre-market trading Monday morning.

The pact is welcome news for ImmunoGen, which played a role in the development of the Roche breast cancer drug ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), but hasn’t been as successful with its own-in-house work. The Roche drug is one of the few approved drugs from a class of therapeutics called antibody-drug conjugates, which combine the targeting ability of an antibody with a toxin, creating something of a “smart bomb” effect on tumors. Roche used ImmunoGen’s technology to create the drug, a souped-up version its own anti-cancer antibody, trastuzumab (Herceptin). Others like Amgen, Sanofi, Bayer, and Novartis have also tapped into ImmunoGen’s technology to try to make enhanced antibodies of their own.

Still, while ADCs represent a promising way to target cancer, they haven’t led to a sea change in cancer drug development. Only three ADCs have been approved in the U.S. (including Kadcyla), and one was taken off the market for safety reasons. The only other ADC currently sold in the U.S. is Seattle Genetics’s (NASDAQ: SGEN) brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris). The ADC class been overshadowed by excitement for cancer immunotherapy—treatments that harness the power of the immune system to treat cancer. So-called “checkpoint” inhibitors that help the immune system recognize tumors have won FDA approval for skin and lung cancer; large and small companies alike are lining up to be the next with such drugs. Another technology, through which patients’ own immune cells are modified and turned into cancer killers, has produced rousing results in early studies.

Still, ADC developers are plugging away, among them ImmunoGen, which gets royalties from Kadcyla sales. The company’s shares were battered a few months ago when Roche delivered disappointing news from a trial testing the drug with another breast cancer drug, pertuzumab (Perjeta), and it hasn’t yet been able to get its own wholly owned drug programs to the finish line. But today’s deal gives ImmunoGen a few more shots to get its technology to market.

“ADC technology is a critically important tool in addressing unmet needs in oncology,” said Takeda oncology executive Christopher Claiborne, in a statement. “By partnering with ImmunoGen, we are able to leverage this important technology in Takeda’s R&D program and bring novel agents through the clinic.”