As a growing number of pharmaceutical companies set their sights on stepping into the burgeoning oncology space, major moves continue to be made with key cancer biotech acquisitions. And as big pharma works on developing and growing their oncology portfolios, the rising trend of such mergers and acquisitions won’t be slowing down any time soon.
In the past few weeks alone, the industry saw four major cancer biotech acquisitions: Agilent Technologies’ takeover of precision oncology liquid biopsy developer Resolution Biosciences; Takeda’s buy-out of Maverick Therapeutics and its T cell immuno-oncology technology; Amgen’s purchase of Five Prime’s immuno-oncology assets; and Hologic Inc.’s acquisition of molecular oncology leader Biotheranostics Inc.
The mega biotech acquisition deals, ranging between a quarter to over half a billion dollars, reflects the expanding oncology market, which was valued at $136.7 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to a whopping $469.5 billion by 2026. Despite setbacks due to the pandemic, the market is expected to recover and continue its march forward.
Cancer treatments have drastically improved in the last several decades, particularly with the advent of molecular therapies and better supportive care. This is reflected in better patient outcomes. In the 1970s, the five-year survival of all patients diagnosed with cancer was about 50 percent in the US; this number improved to 70 percent in 2009. Cancer deaths have been on the decline since the early 1990s, with an overall reduction of 29 percent witnessed between 1991 and 2017.
Despite increased cancer survivorship overall, there continues to be significant unmet need in oncology. Specifically, options for early and non-invasive cancer detection and diagnostics, as well as treatment innovations for metastatic and late-stage disease along with specific disease areas remain important areas of development. For example, there have not been any major advances in treatments for acute myeloid leukemia for well over 40 years.
Here is a closer look at some of the recent cancer biotech acquisitions.
1. Agilent Technologies and Resolution Biosciences Shake Hands Over Liquid Biopsy Platform
In a deal worth $695 million, Agilent Technologies (NASDAQ: A) recently inked an agreement to acquire Resolution Bioscience to grow a pipeline of next-generation sequencing (NGS) cancer diagnostics. Resolution has been a leader in the development of NGS-based companion diagnostics (CDx) test development and registration services for precision oncology.
Agilent is a major provider of instruments, consumables, applications and services to laboratories worldwide. As a leader in life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets, it is looking to grow its cancer diagnostics pipeline. As part of this, Agilent has keyed in on Resolution Bioscience’s non-invasive liquid biopsy assay platform called the Comprehensive Liquid Biopsy Platform or ctDx (ctDx).
Using a simple, standard blood sample, the assay can detect actionable genetic mutations in cancers, including cancer-driving alterations. The diagnostic is a molecular NGS-based test, making the platform unique and precision-driven, which can help guide targeted approaches in cancer treatments.
The liquid biopsy market itself was valued at over $1.06 billion dollars in 2019 and is expected to grow to $5.03 billion by 2027.
This makes Agilent’s move both a good business and patient-oriented decision as it hopes to drive innovation in the area of oncology precision diagnostics through the biotech acquisition.
2. Takeda Gains T Cell Targeting Assets from Maverick Therapeutics in Biotech Acquisition
Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited (NASDAQ: TAK) announced its acquirement of Maverick Therapeutics, Inc. in early March in a deal worth $525 million. Maverick is a private biopharmaceutical company that has worked to develop innovative, next-generation active bispecific T cell immunotherapies specifically designed to target solid tumors.
In the deal, Takeda will gain Maverick’s T cell engager COBRA platform as well as a broad development portfolio. The portfolio includes Maverick’s lead candidate TAK-186 (MVC-101) that is currently being studied for the treatment of EGFR-expressing solid tumors in a Phase I/II study. The biotech acquisition will also see Takeda getting Maverick’s TAK-280 (MVC-280), an immunotherapy designed to treat patients with B7H3-expressing solid tumors which is expected to enter the clinic later this year.
Maverick’s COBRA platform is used to engineer protein-based therapies that target T cells in the tumor microenvironment to trigger their activation. The therapies are designed to induce T cell-mediated killing specifically at the tumor site while sparing healthy cells and tissue. This contrasts with traditional T cell therapies that are administered live and act systemically.
With its cancer biotech acquisition, Takeda says that the COBRA platform complements the company’s approach to target cancer cells in solid tumors by unlocking the potential of immune cells. Therapies engineered through COBRA are designed to safely target a broad range of solid tumors with highly specific and potent activity while limiting toxicities in normal tissues.
Takeda’s uptake of COBRA and Maverick’s other oncologic offerings will add to the company’s Takeda Oncology division that is committed to developing precision therapies and diagnostics.
The cancer biotech acquisition is part of a multi-year collaboration between the companies that was struck back in 2017 to develop conditionally active T cell engager therapies. As part of the deal, Takeda received an equity stake and an exclusive right to purchase Maverick after five years. Given the success of Maverick’s lead programs, including the promise of the COBRA platform, Takeda exercised its option to acquire Maverick for a pre-negotiated upfront payment, as well as potential development and regulatory milestones totaling up to $525 million.
3. Amgen Set to Acquire Five Prime Therapeutics
In a blockbuster $1.9 billion dollar deal, industry stalwart Amgen announced in early March of this year that it would be acquiring clinical-stage biotech company Five Prime Therapeutics. Five Prime is focused on developing immuno-oncology and targeted cancer therapies. Under the agreement of the biotech acquisition, Amgen will receive Five Prime’s major assets as it expands its oncology portfolio.
The biotech acquisition deal includes Five Prime’s prime asset bemarituzumab, which is a first-in-class anti-FGFR2b antibody. The antibody accrued promising data in a randomized, placebo-controlled Phase II study in frontline advanced gastric or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancer, and is now being prepared for Phase III trials. Bemarituzumab targets FGFR2b, which has been found to be overexpressed in approximately 30 percent of patients with non-HER2 positive gastric cancer, and other solid tumors as well.
Amgen’s Five Prime cancer biotech acquisition will also help support its international expansion strategy. Gastric cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world and is particularly prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region. The region is where Amgen expects to generate significant volume growth in the coming years. The company says it plans to leverage its presence in Japan and other Asia-Pacific markets to maximize bemarituzumab’s potential.
Given this, as part of the contract of the biotech acquisition, Amgen will also receive a royalty percentage on future net sales in Greater China from a pre-existing co-development and commercialization agreement between Five Prime and Zai Lab (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.
Amgen says adding Five Prime’s innovative pipeline programs to its portfolio will bring meaningful therapies to oncology patients.
4. Hologic Acquires Biotheranostics to Expand Women’s Health and Metastatic Cancer Portfolio
Hologic Inc. (NASDAQ: HOLX), a global leader in women’s health, announced at the beginning of the year that it had forged an agreement to acquire Biotheranostics Inc., a private, commercial-stage company focused on molecular diagnostic tests for breast and metastatic cancers. The biotech acquision is worth approximately $230 million and will allow Hologic to build a specific oncology pipeline that will complement its broader focus on women’s health.
One of its key assets is CancerTYPE ID, which Biotheranostics developed for the diagnosis and identification of metastatic disease, including cancers of unknown primary origin. CancerTYPE ID has become a widely adopted test that can help clinicians make an accurate diagnosis in metastatic cancer patients with an unclear diagnosis. The tool analyzes the differential expression of over 90 genes to distinguish between 50 tumors types and subtypes.
In a blinded validation study, CancerTYPE ID demonstrated an overall accuracy of 87 percent, even in cases where limited tissue was available. In addition, in a head-to-head study, the diagnostic showed statistically superior accuracy compared with IHC in patients referred for a second diagnostic opinion. It is also one of the only tests that has demonstrated impact on clinical outcomes.
In a prospective study, in patients with an initial diagnosis of cancer of unknown primary origin, the test identified a primary tumor type and subtype in 98 percent of patients. Furthermore, CancerTYPE ID-directed treatment translated into an increase in overall survival of 37 percent (3.4 months).
Hologic will also acquire Biotheranostics’ Breast Cancer Index (BCI) test which is an extended endocrine biomarker diagnostic. The test was developed based on the fact that the overwhelming majority of women (about 95 percent) with early stage, hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancer do not benefit from anti-estrogen therapy after five years. BCI is a commercially available test that addresses this discrepancy and is validated to predict a patient’s benefit from extended endocrine therapy to help determine whether continuing treatment beyond five years is warranted.
Both of Biotheranostics’ diagnostics are PCR-based gene expression tests. The company says the tests have been extensively validated in large studies, particularly in areas of oncology with critical unmet needs and significant growth potential. The BCI test has become a part of several clinical practice guidelines for breast cancer.
With the oncology biotech acquisition, Hologic hopes to better position itself in offering improved, innovative and robust approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of women’s and metastatic cancers.
With cancer remaining a leading cause of death and disability worldwide, and with critical unmet need in many areas of oncology, it is certainly promising to see big pharma at the helm of major cancer biotech acquisitions as part of strategies to build robust oncology programs. With the market for both oncology diagnostics and therapeutics continuing to grow, there is great potential and scope for innovation to deliver improved options for patients.