Pfizer, AVANT forge cancer vaccine deal

Brain cancer vaccine license deal could be worth $440 million

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NEW YORK—In a move some analysts say could bolster the struggling cancer immunotherapy space, Pfizer Inc. and AVANT Immunotherapeutics last month signed a partnership deal worth up to $440 million for CDX-110, AVANT's therapeutic cancer vaccine candidate.

Under the licensing and development agreement, Pfizer will pay AVANT $40 million in up-front payments and $10 million in equity investments. Pfizer will also fund all development costs for these programs. In addition, AVANT is eligible to receive milestone payments exceeding $390 million for the successful development and commercialization of CDX-110 and additional EGFRvIII vaccine products, as well as double-digit royalties on any product sales.

As part of the deal, Pfizer gets the exclusive worldwide license to CDX-110, an investigational vaccine currently in Phase II development for the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). The immunotherapy targets the tumor-specific molecule EGFRvIII, a functional variant of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein that has been well validated as a target for cancer therapy in certain tumor types. Pfizer also gets exclusive rights to use EGFRvIII vaccines in other potential indications.

The deal was enacted through Celldex Therapeutics Inc., which merged with AVANT March 7. The licensing deal is expected to close during the second quarter.

"We are excited about the potential for CDX-110 and intend to partner with AVANT and academic physician-scientists to investigate this novel vaccine candidate with the hope of providing patients and doctors with a new treatment option for this devastating disease," says Dr. Briggs Morrison, senior VP for clinical development at Pfizer.

AVANT President and CEO Dr. Una S. Ryan says the deal is one of the largest executed to date in the cancer immunotherapy space and one that demonstrates the continued progress being made in the field.

"Pfizer is an established world leader in drug development, and we believe their commitment to develop CDX-110 signifies the importance of EGFRvIII as a well-validated target for cancer therapy in GBM, in addition to its potential to advance treatment for a number of other difficult-to-treat cancers," Ryan says. "Importantly, while the substantial development resources of Pfizer will contribute to the to CDX-110 development program, the revenue generated by this agreement will also help advance our pipeline of innovative vaccines and targeted immunotherapeutics for the treatment of cancer as well as other infectious and inflammatory diseases."

Ryan adds that AVANT's drug candidates were attractive to Pfizer because they will complement the pharma giant's plans to develop its vaccine business. Early trial data has been very encouraging, she adds.
"If you look at something like EGFRvIII, it's almost ideal as a cancer target," she says. "There are many targets which also occur on normal cells. This one is a specific human marker, so I think that is very attractive."

Ryan stresses the collaborative nature of the agreement: "It is not one of those big pharma partnerships where they take the product away from you," she says. "We will remain responsible for the ongoing Phase II stud ies and, together with Pfizer, we will then quickly climb to expand the studies internationally to generate the necessary data for filing approvals in all markets."

The deal prompted analysts at Needham & Company LLC to issue a "buy" rating for AVANT and upgrade their price target of AVANT shares to $18. AVANT's stock jumped 16.6 percent, or $1.67, on the news to close at $11.72. Immediately following the announcement, Pfizer rose 39 cents to close at $21.10 during the regular trading session.


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