Striking an acquisition less than six months after going public is an unusual move, but Aduro Biotech is quite an unusual company. For a start it has money burning a hole in its pocket after an upsized IPO in April, as well as a $225m investment from Novartis.
Then there is Aduro’s main focus: cancer vaccines. These have proved to be a difficult field, and any vaccine will probably need to be combined with an immune checkpoint inhibitor to succeed. And this is where its target, BioNovion, comes in.
The €29m ($34m) move – half cash, half stock – could be seen as a desperate one given Aduro’s misfortune on the stock market: its share price is now nearly half that when it first floated. But a less sinister motive is the “natural fit” of BioNovion’s immune-oncology antibodies with Aduro’s programmes, according to Leerink analysts, who said the purchase was a “strong strategic move”.
Aduro’s pipeline includes its flagship Listeria-based LADD delivery platform, in clinical development in various cancers, with pancreatic cancer the most advanced indication.
Validated targets first
BioNovion, whose assets are all preclinical, is betting on the usual suspects – PD-1 and CTLA-4 – but it also has anti-CD27 and anti-APRIL candidates, and several antibodies with undisclosed novel targets, as well as five bispecific antibody programmes under a deal with Genmab.
Aduro plans to focus on the clinically validated targets first before turning to the novel candidates, and hopes to start the first clinical trials of BioNovion’s antibodies by late 2016/early 2017.
But while the novel agents are the most intriguing, even the anti-PD-1 and CTLA-4 contenders could have advantages in what is becoming an increasingly crowded sector, the company believes.
BioNovion is able to develop superior versions of existing antibodies, Aduro's chief executive, Stephen Isaacs, said during a call to discuss the deal. His group has been busy testing its own technology with various immune-oncology candidates in preclinical studies, including BioNovion’s, so it must have seen some promising signs.
One interesting potential area for development is a CTLA-4-secreting version of Aduro’s GVAX vaccine, which could spur a localised response and perhaps get around problems of toxicity seen with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s anti-CTLA-4 MAb Yervoy. When asked by analysts whether this would be of interest, Mr Isaacs replied: “Absolutely.”
As well as the possible clinical benefits, there is BioNovion’s Netherlands headquarters, which could come in handy for tax purposes.
No Sting in the tail
Aduro said it would pursue combinations of BioNovion’s antibodies with all of its technologies, which would include the preclinical Sting-targeting technology that drew Novartis’s attention (Pre-IPO Sting gives Novartis a stake in Aduro, March 30, 2015).
But this tie-up should not be a barrier to using BioNovion’s candidates, said Aduro's chief operating officer, Gregory Schafer, who described the Novartis agreement as broad and balanced.
Ultimately, Aduro will now not need to depend on others for its antibodies, which could help its research progress faster. Whether this will increase the chances of success with its vaccines is another matter.
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