Roche and Affimed in US$5bn cancer deal

Roche’s US arm Genentech has licenced Affimed NV’s ROCK platform to add multivalent antibodies, which could activate the innate immune system, to its cancer pipeline.

Under the deal, the Heidelberg-based blood cancer specialist will licence its ROCK (Redirected Optimized Cell Killing) platform, which enables production of NK cell and T cell-engaging tetravalent antibodies, to Genentech. The companies said that Roche will use the platfom to generate NK cell engagers, which generate antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC) reponses and would complement Roche’s immunooncology pipeline with candidates that could activate innate immune cells to fight cancer.

While cancer immunotherapies started with a great hype, combination therapies aimed at widening the population of responders, which is currently limited to 30% of patients, to those with non-inflamed cancer types have not been very successful.

Under the contract, Affimed will receive US$96m in upfront and near-term payments over the first 12 months of the deal. Futhermore, Affimed has the option to receive US$250m in developmental milestones, US$1.1bn in regulatory milestones and US$3.6bn in commercial milestones – that is US$4.95bn in total –, plus tiered royalties.

So far Affimed’s proprietary cancer platform includes only candidates that target hematological cancers. Roche, however, announced it will use the ROCK platform to generate new candidates in both, solid and hematologic tumours. For that purpose, it licensed undisclosed targets from Affimed. Genentech will be responsible for a "majority" of the R&D, development and commercialisation of each candidate, which will be overseen by a joint research committee comprising representatives from both companies.

Under the deal, Affimed will retain IP related to its ROCK platform or molecule fragments that bind NK cells, while Genentech will own IP related to an antibody designed against the targets. Other newly developed IP will be jointly owned.

“Our partnership with Affimed provides an opportunity to enhance our existing efforts to understand how the immune system can be activated to help people living with cancer,” said James Sabry, Global Head of Partnering. Antibodies generated with Affimed’s ROCK platform might complement a bi-specific multivalent IgG1-like antibody format dubbed CrossMab developed at Roche pRED in Basel some years ago. It has already produced some clinical pipeline candidates.


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