Even as it is about to be acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene continues to be a prodigious dealmaker. The biotech firm recently added two new partners, Kyn Therapeutics and Obsidian Therapeutics, to further build its immuno-oncology portfolio.
Earlier this month, BMS agreed to buy Celgene for $74 billion in a deal designed to create a force in oncology. Celgene has built half of its pipeline through alliances with smaller biotechs, a strategy that does not appear to be slowing while the BMS merger proceeds.
Celgene will pay $80 million upfront and take a stake in Kyn, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based start-up developing compounds that interrupt metabolic pathways known to dampen the immune response. The pact gives Celgene the option to license two early-stage programs, one to develop an antagonist of a transcription factor called aryl hydrocarbon receptor and the other to create a potent, stable version of the naturally-occurring kynurenine-degrading enzyme.
In a separate deal, Celgene and Obsidian will develop cell therapies targeting two immunomodulatory molecules, IL12 and CD40L. Obsidian’s technology could potentially expand the utility of chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, or CAR T-cells, which are a cancer patient’s own T-cells engineered to include a receptor that helps them home in on cancer cells. The cellular therapy can be an extraordinarily effective cancer killer, but can also work so fast that it becomes dangerous—even deadly—to the patient. Obsidian has found a way of fine-tuning the expression of the protein to control the activity of CAR T-cells.
The Obsidian deal broadens Celgene’s already expansive cellular therapy portfolio, much of which it got through last year’s $9 billion acquisition of Juno Therapeutics.