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Invenra Partners with Exelixis to Develop New Antibody Cancer Drugs

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Invenra, a biotech startup that develops therapeutic antibodies for pharma companies, is joining forces with a Bay Area company to discover and develop new treatments for cancer.

Madison, WI-based Invenra’s announcement late Wednesday that it will partner with South San Francisco, CA-based Exelixis (NASDAQ: EXEL) said that the companies will develop as many as seven distinct projects. The companies, however, did not offer any details on which targets those projects will aim for in cancer.

Under the agreement, Exelixis will pay Invenra $2 million upfront, plus an additional $2 million at the outset of each new discovery project, the company said. Exelixis will receive an exclusive global license to one preclinical asset, Invenra said.

Invenra is eligible to receive up to $131.5 million from Exelixis if they achieve specific development and regulatory milestones “for any product containing a lead preclinical asset in the first indication,” according to a news release.

Though Invenra develops therapeutic antibodies for pharma companies, it has said it could one day become a drug developer itself. The company’s core business involves discovering antibodies and performing related biology work around targets Invenra’s partners have identified in advance.

The antibodies Invenra develops are designed to stick to a specific target—a disease-causing protein, for example—and then perform functions on the targets. Invenra concentrates on antibodies for immuno-oncology that are “multispecific,” meaning they can attack more than one target simultaneously.

Exelixis, meanwhile, has been on the comeback trail since hitting rock-bottom in late 2014. One major part of the company’s recent renaissance has been its run of success with positive Phase 3 results of its flagship drug cabozantinib in liver cancer.

Exelixis and Invenra will together seek to discover and develop multispecific antibodies using Invenra’s technology. The collaboration fuses Exelixis’s experience in drug development and commercialization with Invenra’s technology and biologics expertise, the company said.

Under the terms of the deal, Invenra is responsible for antibody lead discovery and generation, while Exelixis is tasked with leading studies in the run-up to clinical trials, drug manufacturing, and working with regulatory agencies.

If a product is successfully commercialized, Invenra would be eligible to receive as much as $325 million in milestone payments from Exelixis. That’s contingent on the two companies hitting certain sales targets. Invenra would also receive royalties on the sales of an approved product.

Invenra’s other partners include Merck (NYSE: MRK), the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, AgonOx, and Oxford BioTherapeutics. A majority of the collaborations Invenra has made public to date focus at least in part on developing new cancer therapies.

The company has raised more than $14 million in outside investment, including a $2.9 million round of financing last year.