BioPharma, Pharma

Regeneron Acquires Cancer Drug Pipeline, Creates New Cell Therapy Division

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is paying $5 million up front for 2seventy bio’s cancer drug pipeline. 2seventy will now focus on a cell therapy commercialized with partner Bristol Myers Squibb while Regeneron adds assets for its newly formed cell therapy division.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is building a presence in the cell therapy field through dealmaking, its latest move the acquisition of a 2seventy bio pipeline that includes potential treatments for blood cancers and solid tumors.

Heading to Regeneron are the rights to eight preclinical and early clinical 2seventy programs along with infrastructure that supported them. The new assets will become part of a new R&D unit called Regeneron Cell Medicines, which is focused on developing cell therapies for cancer and immunology.

The deal terms announced Tuesday call for Regeneron to pay $5 million up front. It comes a little more than two years after 2seventy spun out of Bluebird Bio, capitalized with $442 million.

Regeneron and Bluebird have a prior cell therapy relationship. In 2018, the two companies struck a deal to apply their respective technologies toward the discovery of new cell therapies for cancer. That alliance yielded a CAR T cell therapy for ovarian cancer and a TCR T cell therapy for solid tumors, both programs in preclinical development. The original deal gave Regeneron opt-in rights for co-development and co-commercialization of the partnered programs. Under the collaboration, 2seventy received nearly $20 million from Regeneron in 2022, according to 2seventy’s annual report. The new agreement gives Regeneron full development and commercialization rights of the preclinical and clinical-stage pipeline.

“By integrating 2seventy’s pipeline of cell therapies and their talented team, we are complementing our own expertise and portfolio of innovative immuno-oncology treatments, which will allow for potentially transformative combinations that can really make a difference in patients’ lives,” George Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron, said in a prepared statement.

For 2seventy, the sale of its pipeline follows an internal review going back months. Last September, the company implemented a corporate restructuring that left it prioritizing Abecma, the multiple myeloma CAR T-therapy commercialized through a partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb. The partners are working on securing approval of the therapy in earlier lines of multiple myeloma treatment. But the September restructuring led to the layoff of 40% of 2seventy’s staff.

With its cancer pipeline moving to Regeneron, 2seventy will see more personnel changes. The company said 160 workers will transfer to Regeneron, including 2seventy Chief Scientific Officer Philip Gregory and Chief Medical Officer Steve Bernstein. About 14% of the remaining 2seventy staff will be laid off, according to a regulatory filing. Also, Nick Leschly, who stepped away from the chief executive post at Bluebird to lead 2seventy, will leave that company’s top post and become board chair. Chief Financial Officer Chip Baird will become the CEO of a much leaner 2seventy, which will have a headcount of 65. The company projects this restructuring will save $150 million in 2024 and $200 million in 2025, extending its cash runway beyond 2027.

[Update: The following three paragraphs added with analyst comment.] In note sent to investors Wednesday, Leerink Partners analyst Daina Graybosch wrote that the acquisition is the best case scenario for 2seventy. The oncology pipeline will benefit from Regeneron leadership focused on these assets and technology platforms without distraction of commercial-stage Abecma, which has little synergy with early-stage R&D.

Graybosch added that the deal provides a way for 2seventy to show investors and potential acquirers a cleaner picture of its value. Some upcoming events could help fill out that picture. The FDA has asked for an advisory committee meeting to weigh in on Abecma’s use in earlier lines of treatment. An affirmative vote could pave the way for a label expansion. But Graybosch added that 2seventy’s arc has readthrough to the broader cell therapy industry, reflecting a lack of value placed by public market investors on cell therapy platforms.

“While investors have long been more willing to value clinical assets, we believe market pessimism has increased in regard to platforms and early-phase assets,” Graybosch said. “Perhaps this is a consequence of an abundance of riches muddying the waters. In cell therapy, companies can rapidly engineer at unprecedented levels for biopharma, with more ideas than patients on which to test the products.”

Regeneron and 2seventy expect to complete transfer of the cell therapy pipeline in the first half of 2024. It marks the Regeneron’s second cell therapy deal of the past year. Last March, Regeneron paid $75 million up front to begin an R&D alliance with Sonoma Biotherapeutics, a startup developing autoimmune disease cell therapies based on regulatory T cells, or Tregs. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the initial targets of this alliance.

Regeneron will sublease 2seventy’s Seattle facility as well as a portion of 2seventy’s Cambridge, Massachusetts site. Regeneron owes 2seventy a $10 million milestone payment upon the first regulatory approval from the acquired pipeline in a major market, according to a regulatory filing. Regeneron is also responsible for paying 2seventy royalties from sales of any approved products.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg, via Getty Images