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Allogene, broadening its reach, helps start a biotech in China

Dive Brief:

  • Allogene Therapeutics has started a joint venture with Overland Pharmaceuticals, a newly formed Chinese biotech, to bring allogeneic, or “off the shelf,” cell therapies to greater China and other Asian countries.

 

  • The joint venture, called Allogene Overland Biopharm, has been formed with partial rights to four different Allogene programs targeting either blood cancers or solid tumors. Overland is paying Allogene $40 million and putting $77 million into the venture, giving it a 51% stake. Allogene holds the remaining 49%, according to CEO David Chang.

 

  • The deal is the second of its kind struck by Overland since its formation last week, following a similar pact with cancer drug developer ADC Therapeutics. It also builds on a renewed push by pharmaceutical companies and biotechs to strengthen their positions in China — a need on which new startups like Overland and LianBio aim to capitalize.

 

Dive Insight:

Allogene has made fast progress since launching less than three years ago with a portfolio of treatments that originated within French firms Cellectis and Servier.

Since that time, the company has gone public and emerged as one of the leaders in the long-running effort to turn cells from healthy donors into effective cancer treatments. Two of its allogeneic, or “off the shelf” programs have shown promise — albeit, with important questions to answer — for different blood cancers. And five trials are planned for 2021, including the company’s first pivotal study and the first in solid tumors, according to Chang. Each are crucial steps forward both for the company and the field of allogeneic treatments, which aim to become a viable alternative to their logistically challenging, autologous rivals.

With Allogene making a quick turn into late-stage development, it’s begun thinking about commercializing its products globally. And that put the company’s assets within the sights of Overland, which was formed by Asia-focused private equity firm Hillhouse Capital last week specifically to bring novel medicines to Asian countries.

In its debut announcement on Dec. 9, Overland, run by two Hillhouse venture partners, outlined plans to partner with biotechs looking to “expand the development and commercialization” of their programs. Co-founder Ed Zhang specifically pointed to antibody drug conjugates, cell therapies and RNA interference programs — each complex, cutting edge types of medicines — as targets.

The strategy comes amidst renewed interest in China by pharmaceutical companies, which are turning East in search of revenue growth, and by investors aiming to capitalize on that interest. Several biotechs — among them LianBio, Brii Biosciences and Terns Pharmaceuticals — have formed over the past few years to help bring new medicines to China.

Overland is the latest to join the fray, and has quickly lined up two deals. On Monday, it teamed with ADC Therapeutics to form Overland ADCT BioPharma, a joint venture with partial rights to four tumor-targeting antibody drugs. Tuesday, it followed up with another, similar agreement with Allogene.

The deal broadens Allogene’s reach as it “allows for the development, manufacturing and commercialization” of allogeneic treatments for patients in greater China, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, Chang said. He specifically pointed to the inclusion of two programs for solid tumors — one targeting the protein DLL3, the other CD70 — as “especially interesting.” Solid tumors account for many of the most common cancer types: Allogene’s CD70-targeting program, ALLO-316, is being developed for kidney cancer. DLL3 is implicated in small-cell lung cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. Neither program has begun human testing, and Allogene hasn’t yet disclosed details about its regulatory path forward in China.

The deal also includes partial rights to two Allogene treatments for multiple myeloma and other blood cancers. It doesn’t impact Allogene’s lead lymphoma programs, for which non-U.S. rights are held by Servier.