In late 2014, Amgen entered a new strategic immmuno-oncology collaboration and licensing agreement with Kite Pharma, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company. From Amgen’s perspective, the deal made a great deal of strategic sense. Nature Biotechnology had recently named Kite a top academic spinout, both for the amount of funding it has attracted and for its scientific capabilities. At the time, Amgen already had two additional immuno-oncology molecules in late-stage development. As a result, this collaboration was thought by Amgen to be a nice complement to its existing assets. However, as anyone who has spent time working on a deal can attest, just because a deal makes sense on one side of the table doesn’t mean it will happen. As was the case with the collaboration with Kite and Amgen, it took parties on both sides willing to collaborate, be flexible, and to explore multiple options in order to close the deal. “Deals are like snowflakes,” says David Piacquad, Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Business Development, “No two are the same.”
A deal with mutual benefits
Teams on both sides of the table worked through a number of unique components to arrive at a partnership framework that provides tremendous strategic benefits to both parties. For example, the partnership does not split rights to potential therapies by geographic regions (ie: US vs non-US rights), instead providing each party with a subset of resulting assets to clinically develop and ultimately commercialize independently.
“This exclusive worldwide collaboration brings together the respective company’s strengths. Amgen has a demonstrated commitment to, and capabilities in, advancing new approaches in immuno-oncology and an extensive array of cancer targets. Kite has industry-leading expertise, research capabilities and a proven engineered autologous cell therapy (eACT™) platform,” said Arie Belldegrun, M.D. Kite’s chairman , president, and chief executive officer. “Identifying targets that uniquely express on cancer but not on normal tissue is a challenge to the entire engineered T cell immunotherapy approach. We can think of no better partnership to overcome this challenge and to bring critical and potentially life-saving therapies to patients.”
“As we do with all our collaborations, we tried to customize this agreement in a way that fit the needs of and plays off the strengths of both parties,” said Piacquad. “We felt Kite had a really strong platform with solid intellectual property and an excellent team we know we can work with.”
Benefiting from a local network
Another unique aspect of the deal was that Kite is practically in Amgen’s backyard. Kite’s offices are just a short drive away from Amgen’s California headquarters and the company employs several former Amgen staff. In this particular deal, the familiarity and mutual level of trust has been important and meaningful.
Cancer immunotherapy (or immuno-oncology) was named the “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2013 by the journal Science. “Immuno-oncology comprises many modalities,” said Piacquad. “We’ve had some early success moving into this territory and we are thrilled to expand the array of tools we have for tapping into the potential of immuno-oncology through this collaboration.”