MedImmune boosts cancer capacities with Definiens deal

Acquisition brings with it Tissue Phenomics, an imaging technology for biomarker identification

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LONDON—In its latest move to strengthen its oncology position, MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has acquired privately held Definiens, a data-analysis firm with corporate headquarters in München, Germany, and American headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif. Per the agreement, MedImmune will acquire 100 percent of Definiens’ shares for an initial consideration of $150 million and will also make additional, predetermined milestone payments. The transaction was expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Among Definiens’ portfolio is Tissue Phenomics, an imaging and data-analysis technology that can dramatically improve the identification of biomarkers in tumor tissue. Tissue Phenomics is based on Definiens’ proprietary Cognition Network Technology, which was developed by Prof. Gerd Binnig, the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Physics, and helps mine information from cancer tissue samples by measuring the identity, locations and relationships between the different components of the tumor microenvironment. The company received Frost & Sullivan’s 2013 Global Company of the Year for Tissue Diagnostics and Pathology Imaging Solutions award.
“Definiens’ Tissue Phenomics approach marks a significant step toward closing the gap between genomics and patient outcomes,” Thomas Heydler, CEO of Definiens, commented in a statement. “We look forward to joining the MedImmune team as Tissue Phenomics is of particular importance for personalized medicine in immuno-oncology. Definiens’ unique ability to extract information from tissue images enables us to find novel markers for patient stratification by correlating tissue information with clinical outcomes. Together, MedImmune and Definiens can bring tailored treatments to patients faster.”
There are a number of reasons for this deal, says Ed Bradley, senior vice president of research and development at MedImmune and head of iMED (Innovative Medicines and Early Development). For one, MedImmune has worked with Definiens for years, in multiple therapeutic areas and across both biologics and small molecules, he explains. Definiens’ technology was also an important factor. A major feature, however, was the volume of work MedImmune’s portfolio was generating, Bradley explains.
“Their technology enables the very precise characterization of change of immunologic biomarkers in patients’ tumors as therapy is progressing, and the ability to get that data really will help us guide a lot of decisions we make about identifying exactly the right combinations of agents to use,” Bradley tells DDNews. “Our portfolio is really based on identifying the best, most active combinations of immunotherapies to use in patient care, and so we were finding that we were doing more and more of this translational work with Definiens and in just looking forward over the next couple of years, realized that we could completely occupy all of the capacities that they have, and so the acquisition really made a lot of sense.”
Oncology is a core therapeutic area for AstraZeneca and MedImmune, making the technological support Definiens can offer of significant value for pipeline development. Bradley says he considers cancer immunotherapy to have the potential to become “the core of effective cancer therapeutic regimens moving forward, primarily because an effective immune response lasts a lifetime and it has the greatest possibility in resulting in very, very durable response.” He considers it particularly central to AstraZeneca given the company’s small molecules and MedImmune’s immunotherapeutics, which together, Bradley says, offer “an enormous amount of synergistic potential, therapeutic potential.”
In a press release detailing the completion of the acquisition, Definiens noted that the deal “will help to accelerate further clinical programs through precise predictive and prognostic biomarker testing. It is believed that using biomarkers to select patients for clinical trials could potentially shorten clinical timelines and increase response rates. As a result, the technology will serve as an important tool in the advancement of the most promising combination therapies across AstraZeneca’s combined small-molecule and biologics pipeline, around 80 percent of which currently has a personalized healthcare approach.”
“It’s extremely important to understand the biology of the immune response to cancer and to understand the pharmacologic/pharmacodynamic effect that you’re having by using these immune checkpoint modulators in patients,” Bradley tells DDNews. “And the Definiens technology enables you, in a small number of patients in a very accurate way, to see exactly what biological, pharmacodynamic effect you’re having, so this is central to the strategy of having a very strong translational core for all of the programs we have.”
Following the completion of this deal, Bradley says Definiens will retain its employees and continue operating its business with third-party customers on a contractual basis.

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