Lilly Enters Research Deal with BioNTech for New Cancer Immunotherapies

Pharma giant Eli Lilly and Company is teaming up with Germany-based BioNTech to discover novel cancer immunotherapies.

The companies have entered into a research collaboration to discover new cancer drugs, which use the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells and create possible new treatment options for patients with cancer. The companies will utilize their scientific expertise to identify and validate novel tumor targets and their corresponding T cell receptors (TCRs) in one or more types of cancer.

Under the deal, BioNTech will receive a $30 million signing fee. Additionally, the company has the potential to receive over $300 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestones for each potential drug related to the agreement. If any, drug resulting from the deal, is commercialized, BioNTech would also be eligible for tiered royalty payments up to double-digits. Eli Lilly will also make a $30 million equity investment in BioNTech’s subsidiary, Cell & Gene Therapies, which specializes in the research and development of TCR and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) immunotherapeutics.

“In the past few years, we’ve seen some amazing breakthroughs in immuno-oncology; however, we believe these are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Greg Plowman, MD, PhD, vice president of Lilly Oncology Research. “Lilly’s partnership with BioNTech represents the next wave of cancer immunotherapy and is focused on the identification of functional T cell receptors that can be used to redirect a patient’s natural immune system to fight cancer.”

BioNTech’s technologies include UniCell fully human TCRs, designed to enable high-throughput cloning and validation of human TCRs from single antigen reactive T lymphocytes. With UniCell, TCRs can be cloned from patient samples and validated in as little as eleven days. According to the company, UniCell has already generated a library of TCR drug candidates for a range of oncology targets and various human leukocyte antigen (HLA) restrictions.

Lilly has a robust pipeline of cancer drugs including both small molecules and monoclonal antibodies, which are being studied in various cancers including breast, colorectal, liver and non-small cell lung. The deal with BioNTech marks Lilly’s fourth cancer immunotherapy collaboration over the past year. Last summer, Lilly entered into a $45 million deal with Immunocore for its cancer immunotherapy technology. Additionally, the company has agreed to collaborate on clinical trials with Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“We are very pleased to collaborate with a leading oncology company such as Lilly. Lilly’s expertise and track record make it an ideal collaborator for both companies to leverage the full power of BioNTech’s functional T cell receptor technologies to develop novel cancer therapies that harness the immune system,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech. “This alliance is in line with our strategy to collaborate with companies that have similar fascination, drive and commitment in developing and commercializing truly innovative and disruptive immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer.”

Source: Eli Lilly and Co.

Last updated: 5/12/15; 3:40pm EST

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