A new partnering deal in the trendy field of immune-oncology. Boston-based Agenus signed a €40M deal with Italian Biotech Diatheva to get antibodies, which are targeting a glycoprotein expressed on T cell and NK cell lymphocytes to boost the immune system of patients to fight major cancer.

The Boston (Lexington)-based company Agenus went on the NASDAQ 14 years ago but seemed to struggle from the beginning on, losing over 97% of its value by the end of 2013. In 2014, the firm changed its strategy, entering the trendy field of checkpoint modulators. By absorbing the German 4-Antibody AG in February 2014, Agenus acquired a valuable technology designed to generate therapeutic antibody drugs. Two months later, it partnered with Merck promising up to $100M in milestone payments and announced in March 2015 positive phase III results from GSK’s vaccine using Agenus’s adjuvants. The market cap of the company tripled in the last six months, skyrocketing from $250M to $750M today.

Agenus now wants to expand its portfolio of antibody-based therapeutics to treat cancer patients. To do so, the firm acquired preclinical staged antibodies from the small Italian biotech company Diatheva (which belongs to the large Italian group SOL). These antibodies are targeting Carcinoembryonic Antigen Cell Adhesion Molecule 1 (CEACAM1), a glycoprotein expressed on T cell and NK cell lymphocytes.

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CEACAM1 is overexpressed in several cancer types and has been shown to modulate innate and adaptive immune suppression in pre-clinical studies. Antibodies targeting CEACAM1 are thought to have the potential to effectively treat cancer alone or in combination with other checkpoint modulator antibodies, including those in Agenus’ development pipeline.

In total, Milestone payments could generate up to $44M (€40M). This is quite a humble sum when compared to other deals in the hot field of immuno-oncology. For example, Innate Pharma signed a $1.275B deal with AstraZeneca for its anti-NKG2A antibody and received an initial payment of $250 million. However, the value of Diatheva’s antibodies is probably attached to their potential to complement Agenus therapeutics.

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