Baxter makes a move on immunology with SuppreMol play

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If the sector was wondering where Baxter International’s biopharma spin-off would focus, yesterday’s €200m ($221m) buyout of SuppreMol gave a pretty big clue.

The private German group has developed expertise in the modulation of Fc gamma receptors, a signalling pathway that triggers immune cell response. With SuppreMol having already reported phase II data in lupus, Baxter spelled out an aim to embrace innovative immunological projects.

“Baxter bioscience has two pillars: One is immunology and the other is oncology/haemotology,” SuppreMol's chief executive, Klaus Schollmeier, told EP Vantage. “So I think we fit very nicely in their immunology franchise, strengthening their short-term and long-term pipeline.”

Something new

The transaction will contribute to the new standalone Baxter bioscience business one clinical asset and four preclinical agents, hoping to be effective in such disorders as lupus, primary immune thromobocytopenia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The single clinical asset, SM101, will represent the most advanced innovative immunology project in Baxter’s pipeline. Despite efforts to diversify, the company still has a high proportion of candidates in the core business line of blood products.

SM101 is a soluble Fc gamma receptor IIB, which aims to compete with activating receptors to prevent the immune cascade that can lead to inflammation and tissue destruction. It has generated early phase II data in lupus and thrombocytopenia; for the former, it was awarded a slot at the American College of Rheumatology late-breaking abstracts session in November.

The three other named projects – SM201, SM211 and SM301 – are monoclonal antibodies, working agonistically with the same receptor to downregulate immune activity.

“What distinguishes us from the few therapeutic options available is that others are solely working on B cells,” Mr Schollmeier said. “Our approach works on all Fc gamma receptors and Fc gamma receptor-carrying cells, so we have a much broader spectrum of activity.”

If SuppreMol is not the only biotech working in this Fc gamma space, it is certainly one of very few. The unique nature of SuppreMol’s pipeline is a contrast to Baxter’s lone clinical-stage immunology project, the phase III Enbrel biosimilar CHS-0214.

Baxter’s next move

Baxter’s bioscience unit's other pillar, oncology, does not look especially innovative either. Aside from alkylating agents and alkaloids it has a couple of kinase inhibitors – the lead project here is pacritinib, on which the Chicago-based group placed a $60m bet up front to secure ex-US and US co-commercialisation rights from CTI Biopharma.

Thus it will not be surprising to see more business development activity to beef up the bioscience spin out in the coming months. The question in the current frothy market is how to avoid overpaying – witness the premium AbbVie paid yesterday to gain half of Imbruvica’s value in its takeout of Pharmacyclics (A few unsung heroes from AbbVie’s desperate $21bn move, March 5, 2015).

Baxter’s approach suggests that early-stage projects in the hands of private European developers is one way to find less pricey options.

SuppreMol, a spinout of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Munich, was formed in 2002. Subsequent financings raised a total of about €50m – BioMed Partners and MIG were among the company's venture investors.

Quadrupling their investment ought to be pleasing to them, although it is nowhere near the haul Flexus Biosciences’ investors raked in with the $800m takeout by Bristol-Myers Squibb just weeks ago (Flexus shows other immuno-oncology wannabes how it's done, February 24, 2015).

It goes to show that in the midst of the current biotech bubble there are some assets at prices that look comparatively reasonable – even if their value will not be known for years.

To contact the writer of this story email Jonathan Gardner in London at jonathang@epvantage.com or follow @ByJonGardner on Twitter

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