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MacroGenics’ DART Platform Grabs Potential $1B Gilead Deal

By Randy Osborne
Staff Writer

Almost nine months of talks gave birth to the potential $1 billion deal disclosed this morning by MacroGenics Inc., which will deploy the company’s Dual‐Affinity Re‐Targeting (DART) technology for drugs directed at up to four targets in an agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc.

It’s the fourth major pact centered on DART, but with “features that are quite distinct from the others,” Scott Koenig, president and CEO of Rockville, Md.-based MacroGenics, told BioWorld Today.

MacroGenics stands to collect as much as $30 million in license fees, and possibly $85 million more in preclinical milestone payments. Gilead, of Foster City, Calif., owns exclusive worldwide rights for three programs. For the fourth, MacroGenics retains development and commercialization rights outside of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Gilead pays for all research in all four efforts, the bigger money for MacroGenics coming if every candidate hits each of its clinical, regulatory and commercialization milestones.

A primary mover in the deal was Roy Baynes, senior vice president of oncology and inflammation therapeutics at Gilead, who previously worked at Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif. Amgen  bought Rockville-based Micromet at the start of last year. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 27, 2012.)

“Roy saw the opportunity in oncology,” Koenig said, just as MacroGenics, more than six years ago, had seen the value of an approach like Micromet’s way of engaging T cells to make a “redirected killing mechanism.”

And, just as MacroGenics has improved and broadened its technology to include different receptors, extend candidates’ half-life, and scale up manufacturing, Gilead has the option of exploring beyond oncology in the new, four-target deal based on DART.

The technology has evolved into a sophisticated way of making dual specificity “antibody-like” therapeutic proteins. DART’s covalent linkage brings better stability, optimal heavy and light chain pairing and predictable antigen recognition. Already on board are such heavyweights as Pfizer Inc., Servier SA, and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH.

New York-based Pfizer, a little over two years ago, signed up for the redirected T-cell killing approach and “we’re advancing those programs with them,” Koenig said. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 1, 2011.)

Boehringer, of Ingelheim, Germany, “had a little different take – they were particularly interested in applications in inflammation and autoimmunity,” he said. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 27, 2012.)

With regard to Paris-based Servier, MacroGenics “had identified three targets that we were going after” preclinically, Koenig said, and the French firm agreed to a partnership that, similar to the Gilead arrangement as it relates to one target, left on the table commercialization rights in North America and some countries in Asia. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 20, 2012.)

“The beauty of our technology is that we’ve created a system that is essentially plug and play,” Koenig said. “Once we’ve identified an antibody specificity, and the variable regions that we want to incorporate into this molecule, it’s easily cloned in. We have a very robust expression and manufacturing process. By usual timelines for preclinical development, these things can go very quickly.”

Smaller biotechs have shown interest in DART, too, and MacroGenics will happily entertain new conversations. “There are lots of ways of cutting deals,” Koenig said. “We’re obviously pleased with the economics around these deals, but we are not tied into one particular deal structure. If there are certain ways that another party can come to us and offer other assets of value to us, we absolutely will consider it.”