October 5, 2011 / 4:05 AM / 9 years ago

Celgene pays $20 mln to extend Agios agreement

* Celgene extends cancer drug exclusivity deal with Agios

* Agrees to pay $20 mln for one-year extension

* Agreement covers cancer metabolism drugs

By Toni Clarke

Oct 5 (Reuters) - Celgene Corp CELG.O has agreed to pay $20 million to extend an exclusive partnership with private drugmaker Agios Pharmaceuticals to develop a novel class of cancer drugs.

Celgene, a leading maker of drugs to treat blood cancers, has been expanding into solid tumors. Agios, which was formed in 2008, is developing drugs that interfere with the ability of cancer cells to feed themselves.

The agreement extends by one year the terms of a three-year exclusivity deal signed by the two companies in April 2010. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Agios said Celgene has the ability to extend the exclusive collaboration further in future.

Agios is working on a new approach to treating cancer — targeting altered metabolic enzymes that feed cancer cells.

“We know that cancers need two to four hundred times more nutrients than normal cells,” David Schenkein, Agios’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “They need to build biomass quickly so they’ve rewired their enzymes to feed their needs.”

Schenkein was formerly senior vice president of clinical hematology/oncology at Genentech, a leading cancer drug maker that is now a unit of Roche Holding AG ROG.VX.

“We see cancer metabolism as an exciting new field of development,” Schenkein said. “Where we’ve demonstrated the most progress is identifying targets, validating them and creating small molecules to hit those targets.”

Summit, New Jersey-based Celgene decided to extend the exclusivity period because it has been impressed by the first 18 months of the collaboration, said Dr. Thomas Daniel, Celgene’s president of research.

Under the terms of the original agreement, Agios received a $130 million upfront payment, including an equity investment. Celgene has an exclusive option to license any promising drug candidates at the end of clinical testing in a Phase I trial.

Daniel said Celgene is interested, among other targets, in the IDH1 enzyme, shown to play a role in cancer formation, through altered metabolic activity.

“IDH1 is an enzyme that’s important in metabolizing glucose, and mutant forms generate an unusual metabolic side product which accumulates in very high levels in cancer patients,” said Daniel.

As the field has evolved, Daniel said there is evidence of the importance of the IDH1 target beyond acute myelogenous leukemia, where it was discovered, but is also important in solid tumors.

Celgene decided to extend the exclusivity period nearly two years before the preset deadline, which Schenkein said was in mid-2013. (Reporting by Toni Clarke in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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