Astellas and CytomX Strike Immuno-Oncology Deal Worth More than $1.6 Billion


Bay Area-based CytomX and Astellas forged a strategic relationship worth up to $1.6 billion to discover and develop novel T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies targeting CD3 and tumor cell surface antigens for the treatment of cancer.

The two companies will use CytomX’s Probody therapeutic technology platform, as well as its proprietary bispecific formats and CD3 modules.  CytomX’s Probody therapeutics are designed to take advantage of unique conditions in the tumor microenvironment to enhance the tumor-targeting features of an antibody and reduce drug activity in healthy tissues, according to company information. Once activated, the Probody therapeutics bind selectively to cells within tumor tissue with reduced binding to healthy tissue, potentially improving or creating a therapeutic window, according to company data. Probody T-cell engaging bispecifics are antibody constructs capable of directing cytotoxic T-cells to tumor microenvironments, leading to cell-mediated anti-cancer activity, the company added.

CytomX currently has five novel drug-candidates utilizing its Probody technology in the clinic, with three in Phase II studies and two in Phase I studies. Some of these clinical candidates are being developed in collaboration with other companies, including AbbVie, Amgen and Bristol Myers Squibb. The company anticipates a data readout from some of these trials later this year.

Sean McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of CytomX, said the collaboration with Japan-based Astellas “leverages CytomX’s deep expertise in targeting multiple antibody modalities to the tumor microenvironment.” McCarthy added that the company is excited about the opportunity to help Astellas unlock the “potential of T-cell engaging bispecifics in the treatment of solid tumors” as the company continues to build on its platform’s growing proof-of-concept.

Under terms of the agreement, Astellas will make an upfront cash payment of $80 million to CytomX. The companies will collaborate on several initial programs, although how many were not defined in the announcement. CytomX will lead research and discovery activities, up to clinical candidate selection, that will be funded by Astellas. Astellas will lead and fund preclinical and clinical development and commercialization activities. If all proceeds well, CytomX will be eligible to receive milestone payments of more than $1.6 billion.

With immune-oncology being a primary focus for Astellas, Naoki Okamura, who serves as both chief strategy officer and chief financial officer, explained that his company is working on the development of next-generation cancer immunotherapy using new modalities and technologies. They believe that CytomX’s Probody therapeutic technology platform will allow for the expansion of Astellas’ next-generation immuno-oncology therapeutic pipeline.


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