Impressing with immunotherapy

Bayer, Compugen join forces on antibody-based cancer therapeutics

Kelsey Kaustinen
TEL AVIV, Israel—In the hopes of generating new cancertherapeutics, Compugen Ltd. and Bayer HealthCare have inked a collaboration andlicense agreement to research, develop and commercialize antibody-based cancerimmunotherapies against two novel immune checkpoint regulators identified byCompugen.
 
"We are very excited to initiate this collaboration with Bayer,a leading global life-science company with a broadening oncology franchise, forthe development of antibody-based cancer immunotherapies against these twopromising novel immune checkpoint targets," Dr. Anat Cohen-Dayag, president andCEO of Compugen, said in a press release. "In addition, we believe that theprediction and validation of these two targets, through the use of our broadlyapplicable predictive discovery infrastructure, provides additional validationfor our long-term commitment to establishing this unique capability."
 
 
Per the terms of the agreement, the two companies willjointly undertake a preclinical research program, with Bayer holding fullcontrol over further development as well as worldwide commercialization rightsfor potential cancer therapeutics. According to Dr. Zurit Levine, vicepresident of research and discovery at Compugen, the company's responsibilitieswill include antibody generation and characterization, and the company will becollaborating with Bayer on early-stage research until the preclinicaldevelopment candidates are selected. Compugen will receive $10 million upfront, and is eligible to receive more than $500 million in potential milestonepayments for both programs, in addition to up to $30 million in milestonepayments related to preclinical activities. Compugen also stands to receivemid- to high-single-digit royalties on global net sales of any products thatresult from the agreement.
 
 
"Bayer is committed to translating the science of cancerresearch into effective therapies helping people affected by cancer live longerand improve their quality of life," Prof. Andreas Busch, member of the BayerHealthCare Executive Committee and head of global drug discovery, commented ina statement. "Antibody-based immunotherapies are promising approaches inoncology which can stimulate the body's own immune cells to fight cancer cells.Immunotherapy is one of our focus areas in oncology research. We are lookingforward to expanding our portfolio in this area through partnering withCompugen."
 
Cancer is able to develop and spread because the cancercells are capable of expressing certain biological markers that can fool theimmune system and cause the body's natural killer cells to pass them by,allowing them to establish tumors. In addition, tumors and their environmentcan hamper the ability of the immune system to respond effectively, whichenables further growth. Immunotherapy seeks to fight cancer by "training" thebody's immune system to better identify, target and destroy tumors. The immunecheckpoint regulators discovered by Compugen might play a key role inimmunosuppression, and researchers are working on therapeutic antibodies thatcan block the function of these checkpoint regulators to reactivate the body'snatural immune response to tumor cells.
 
 
Though no details were released as to any specific cancertypes that Bayer and Compugen hope to target, Levine says in general, immunecheckpoint regulators such as these could theoretically have use in a varietyof cancers. The immune checkpoint regulators are Compugen's first focuseddiscovery program, she adds. In addition to that research, the company alsoannounced a second program for antibody-drug conjugate cancer therapy in April,which will focus on recurrent cancers and issues of poor survival rates.
 
 
"The field of cancer immunotherapy is an exciting, promisingand growing field. Lately, cancer immunotherapies have demonstrated impressiveclinical benefit, even for end-stage patients with difficult-to-treat tumorssuch as metastatic melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer," says Levine."Unlike conventional cancer therapies—which act by directly targeting thecancer cells, resulting often in only transient clinical responses as cancercells become resistant—clinical responses to cancer immunotherapy tend to bedurable, sometimes resulting in dramatic long-term survival and absence ofresistance or recurrences."
 
Bayer and Compugen first worked together in 2009 to evaluatea specific tumor target. The pharmaceutical giant represents a good partnerbecause "Bayer's expertise matches very well with Compugen's capabilities,"says Levine, and because of its growing oncology business and focus onimmunotherapy.

Kelsey Kaustinen

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