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Amgen And Celgene Acquire Cancer Drug Companies

by Lisa M. Jarvis
January 30, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 5

Amgen and Celgene are each launching into 2012 with acquisitions that beef up their cancer drug pipelines and add unique technologies.

Amgen will pay $1.2 billion for Micro­met, which brings bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE) antibody technology. BiTE antibodies bind to both tumor cells and T cells, causing cancer cell death and proliferation of more T cells at the tumor site. Amgen also gets blinatumomab, a BiTE antibody in Phase II trials for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Amgen is purchasing Micromet, whose R&D hub is in Germany, after test-driving its technology. Last July, the companies agreed to jointly develop BiTE antibodies against three solid-tumor targets.

Micromet’s technology has “long-term value,” Leerink Swann stock analyst Joshua Schimmer told investors in a research note. But the price tag, he said, is “higher than we would have wanted to see.”

In a separate deal, Celgene is paying up to $925 million for Avila Therapeutics, a Bedford, Mass.-based biotech company with covalent drug technology. The acquisition includes $350 million in cash; up to $195 million in milestones based on commercialization of Avila’s lead drug candidate, AVL-292; and another $380 million if other drugs stemming from the technology are approved.

Whereas conventional drugs form reversible bonds with their protein targets, a covalent drug permanently links to its mate. The approach seeks to increase potency and selectivity while lowering toxicity. AVL-292, in Phase I testing against lymphoma, permanently blocks Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (Btk), a protein that helps modulate B cells.



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