Ipsen leaps into the TCR space, teams up with a startup run by Merck KGaA’s former cancer chief – Endpoints News

Ipsen continues its deal-making avenues to kick off the new month, paying $45 million up front to a start-up TCR Monday morning.

The French drugmaker is partnering with Marengo Therapeutics on two experimental drugs, with the biotech taking over the preclinical work and Ipsen planning clinical studies. And the return on Marengo could be huge – Ipsen is promising about $1.6 billion in milestones if both programs meet all of their goals.

Monday’s partnership is Ipsen’s first after its $247 million acquisition of Epizyme at the end of June and continues a deal-making spree dating back just over a year. The company entered into all kinds of deals at the time, including with IRLAB on a disease related to Parkinson’s disease, BAKX Therapeutics on cancer, and Exicure for Huntington.

Ipsen also committed $136 million up front last December to partner with Genfit on NASH, in one of its biggest recent deals.

As it continues to hunt for its next big prize in research and development, Ipsen aims to bypass the $1.3 billion purchase of Clementia that faltered after its flagship drug failed to fail. To fund future spin-offs and handling, Ipsen split its consumer division last February for $460 million, and the Marengo deal is the latest in that effort.

Meanwhile, Marengo has focused on developing a bispecific antibody platform that targets a spot on T-cell receptors known as variable chains and variants. It’s an approach that executives hope will help them differentiate the company in the ever-growing field of immuno-oncology that has now seen seven PD-(L)1 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The biotech launched last November with $80 million in cash and has steadily headed toward the clinic with its flagship program. As Marengo CEO Zhen Su said previously Endpoint newsHis I/O approach is comparable to a car: If PD-(L)1 drugs are closer to releasing the immune system’s brakes, Marengo’s approach supercharges the engine.

Marengo hopes to submit an IND for its lead candidate, known as STAR0602, before the end of the year.

TCR therapies have been rife in the I/O space, especially after Immunocore received its first-ever TCR approval earlier this year. And as Adaptimmune prepares to file its FDA bid, more venture capitalists are starting to take a closer look: In April, RA Capital, Jeito and Omega backed $76 million in Series A for a little-known Swiss biotechnology called CDR-Life.

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