Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) inked a deal with US-based biopharma company, Dragonfly Therapeutics, for an interleukin-12 based immunotherapy program for the treatment of advanced solid tumors. In a licensing agreement valued at USD 475 million, BMS gets its hands on an exclusive worldwide license and Dragonfly will be receiving the said amount in the form upfront and near-term payments with additional royalties linked to development, commercial and regulatory milestones, if BMS commercializes any drugs as a part of the collaboration.
Dragonfly has a unique portfolio of fusion protein-based immune-oncology platforms that harness the ability to body’s innate immunity to fight cancer cells. The centerpiece of the deal is DF6002, a long-lasting monovalent IL-12 Fc fusion protein currently being evaluated in a first-in-human study in patients with advanced solid tumors, a phase I/II study initiated earlier in July this year.
As a target, IL-12 has a notorious reputation within the bio-pharma community for being a pivotal cytokine involved in driving the immune system, stimulating the activity of natural killer cells and T lymphocytes, but is also associated with a host of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and was most recently associated with ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) observed in COVID-19 patients. Due to the risk of severe adverse events associated with this cytokine, it has been tricky to develop a viable IL-12 based therapy. If the anti-angiogenic property can be harnessed safely and adequately, it could offer a promising therapeutic option to patients with advanced cancer.
The deal announced builds on the existing relationship between the two, as BMS and Dragonfly in July 2020 entered into an agreement worth USD 55 million to apply the latter’s proprietary natural killer cell-based platform TriNKET™ (Tri-specific, NK cell Engager Therapies) for developing drug candidates against multiple sclerosis and neuro-inflammatory disorders. Dragonfly had historically also forged partnerships with multiple companies, which include Celgene for several targets for blood cancer, with Merck to apply its natural killer cell platform to infectious diseases, oncology and immune disorders, and another partnership with Abbvie for autoimmune diseases and oncology.
BMS is not alone in its hunt for IL-12 therapy, Ziopharm is also applying a controlled gene therapy approach to trigger brain cells to produce more of IL-12 and then using a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor to keep the cytokine release under control and slowing tumor progression as a treatment option for brain cancer patients.