Molmed and Immatics signed merger agreements last week, and today Curadev provided more evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic has not put a halt to all deal-making. The Indian group has persuaded Bayer to become the second big company to license its Sting programme.
Still, perhaps the deal owes something to coronavirus fears; rather than agonists (the focus of most earlier activity on the Sting pathway), the Bayer deal concerns Sting antagonists, with potential in, among other things, lung diseases. Agonising the Sting pathway had relevance in oncology – this was the focus of Curadev’s tie-up with Takeda last year – but has disappointed.
It is not clear how much work has been done since, and Takeda/Curadev have not yet entered the clinic. There have been other Sting deals recently, the most notable of which was Abbvie buying Mavuspharma, but their value has not been disclosed (Abbvie hopes to turn around the fortunes of Sting, July 16, 2019).
This secrecy likely reflects the fact that recent Sting tie-ups have not included a particularly high amount of up-front cash. Little wonder – the disappointment of the most advanced industry asset, Merck & Co’s MK-1454, which as monotherapy yielded no remissions in a phase I cancer trial, popped the bubble of this approach.
Bayer will be hoping for better luck with Sting antagonism, an area with virtually no industry involvement. The terms of today’s Bayer/Curadev alliance have not been disclosed, beyond its €250m biodollar value, likely owing to its early stage of development.
Bayer and Curadev say inhibiting Sting can modulate immune responses associated with various auto-inflammatory diseases, including those of the lungs and cardiovascular system. The agonist theory in oncology, meanwhile, was based on the finding that Sting played a role in priming T cells, and could thus stimulate immune response.
Apart from Curadev, according to EvaluatePharma Sting antagonist are in development by Spring Bank (SB 11736), Bristol-Myers Squibb (formerly an IFM Therapeutics project) and Nimbus, but all are at the research stage. In late 2018 Lilly paid Aduro $12m to kick-start a deal investigating cGAS-Sting inhibitors for autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases.
Six agonist projects are still in clinical trials; those investors who had written off the pathway might now look to Bayer and Lilly’s endorsement of Sting antagonism to breathe new life into the approach.
|Sting agonists in clinical studies|
|ADU-S100||Novartis/Aduro||Keytruda combo in head & neck cancer|
|MK-1454||Merck & Co||Keytruda combo in head & neck cancer|
|SB 11285||Spring Bank Pharmaceuticals||With/without Opdivo in solid tumours|
|BMS-986301||Bristol-Myers Squibb||With/without Opdivo/Yervoy in solid tumours|
|E7766||Eisai||Bladder cancer trial, not yet recruiting|
|SYNB1891||Synlogic||With/without Tecentriq in various cancer|
|Source: EvaluatePharma & clinicaltrials.gov.|