Gilead Sciences’ oncology and inflammatory diseases research efforts have identified immune dysregulation as a key area of focus. To that end, the drugmaker is expanding its reach by partnering with a young startup bringing multifunctionality to biologic drugs.
Gilead is kicking off the alliance with Tentarix Biotherapeutics by paying $66 million, which is a combination of an upfront payment and an equity investment. The breakdown of the payment was not disclosed, but it is spread across three Tentarix subsidiaries, each containing a partnered development program. Under the terms of the deal announced Tuesday, Gilead has the option to acquire up to three of them, paying $80 million for each subsidiary it purchases. This deal structure allows Tentarix to part with its partnered research programs but retain control of its technology and any drugs developed internally.
San Diego-based Tentarix launched less than two years ago to advance the way biologic drugs treat disease. Bispecific antibodies and T cell engagers work by binding to two targets simultaneously. Tentarix is developing multispecific drugs, which it calls Tentacles, capable of binding to multiple targets to activate a pathway. This approach is a conditional one. The company says a pathway is activated only when a Tentacle binds to all of its cell surface targets, making the therapy more selective to the cells that cause disease and less likely to hit other cells and cause adverse effects.
Tentarix’s lead program addresses immune cells in the tumor microenvironment in order to specifically activate the IL-2 receptor. The company says this approach activates and expands tumor-reactive T cells while also enhancing features that make them more effective and durable cancer fighters. Besides the IL-2 receptor, Tentarix has not disclosed the other targets of this Tentacle.
Gilead has a track record for striking deals with antibody drug developers, some ending up more successful than others. Last month, the company announced it would stop developing magrolimab in myelodysplastic syndromes following disappointing results from a pivotal study. Gilead had acquired the antibody drug as part of its $4.9 billion acquisition of Forty Seven in 2020.
Gilead’s $21 billion acquisition of Immunomedics in 2020 is looking like the better deal. Trodelvy, the antibody drug conjugate that came from Immunomedics, won an additional approval earlier this year for the most common type of breast cancer, positioning the therapy to become a blockbuster seller. Gilead has also struck smaller deals closer in size to the Tentarix alliance. Last fall, the drugmaker paid $60 million up front to partner with MarcoGenics, a biotech whose pipeline includes a bispecific antibody addressing the elusive blood cancer target CD123.
Tentarix launched in 2021, backed by a $50 million Series A round of financing led by Versant Ventures and Samsara BioCapital. The alliance with Gilead is the startup’s first disclosed drug research partnership. The targets covered under the partnership were not disclosed.
“This collaboration is part of our strategy to join forces with innovators, like Gilead, who can help us rapidly advance new medicines to the clinic,” Tentarix President and CEO Paul Grayson said in a prepared statement. “Our technology has great promise and collaborating with Gilead to build out this pipeline helps broaden the development of multifunctional, antibody-based therapeutics, providing an excellent mechanism to validate our science with the ultimate goal of bringing these potential medicines to patients faster.”
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