Bristol-Myers, Compugen ally to test checkpoint combinations

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Bristol-Myers Squibb has struck a deal to test Opdivo in combination with Compugen’s anti-PVRIG antibody COM701. The Big Pharma is investing $12 million in Compugen as part of a deal that gives it the right to first negotiations for the COM701 license.

Compugen has focused its R&D activities on 11 novel immune checkpoint targets. However, although that focus would seem to make Compugen a prime target for immuno-oncology partnerships, deals to validate the potential of its science were slow to arrive. Bayer teamed up with Compugen in 2013 only to hand back the rights to one of two drugs covered by the deal last year.

Israel’s Compugen has had more luck landing partnerships since then. AstraZeneca signed up to work with Compugen on bispecific and multispecific antibodies in April. Now, Bristol-Myers has shown an interest in the biotech’s pipeline.

Bristol-Myers’ interest has manifested in a deal that allows it to keep tabs on Compugen without tying it to major financial commitments. The $12 million equity investment, which is priced at 33% above Compugen’s average stock price over the past 20 days, is the big financial component of the deal. 

Aside from that, the Big Pharma is supplying Opdivo for free for use in Compugen’s recently initiated phase 1 trial in patients with non-small cell lung, ovarian, breast and endometrial cancers. Each part of the two-part, 140-patient trial features an arm that will test COM701 in combination with Opdivo.

Compugen is funding that trial. Separately, Bristol-Myers plans to initiate and fund clinical trials that assess combinations of multiple checkpoint inhibitors. Compugen’s statement cites PVRIG, the target of COM701, and TIGIT as checkpoint targets that Bristol-Myers may investigate in combination. The Israeli biotech has an anti-TIGIT drug in its preclinical pipeline.

Whether the relationship between the companies advances beyond these preliminary ties depends on the outcome of the R&D activities. Pending those results, Bristol-Myers has taken precautions to ensure none of its rivals steal the opportunity.

From now through until after the combination trials finish, the deal requires Compugen to negotiate exclusively with Bristol-Myers for three months before entering into COM701 licensing talks with other companies. The deal also bars Compugen from working with “certain restricted third parties” on preclinical or clinical research involving PD-1/L1 drugs. 

Shares in Compugen rose 17% in premarket trading.