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Lilly ends $1.4bn deal with immuno-oncology biotech NextCur

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A year after signing a deal with immuno-oncology biotech NextCure worth up to $1.4bn, Eli Lilly has decided to terminate the partnership, losing millions in the process.

Under the terms of the agreement, which was agreed in November 2018, Lilly gave NextCure $32.7m – this included a $25m upfront payment, as well as subsequent quarterly R&D support payments and a $15m equity investment in the company.

If NextCure successfully brought a candidate through to market, it would also have been eligible to receive milestone payments of up to $1.4bn.

NextCure did not reveal why Lilly decided to terminate the agreement, saying in a brief US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing:

“On January 10, 2020, Eli Lilly and Company notified NextCure, Inc. of Lilly’s termination, effective as of March 3, 2020, of the Research and Development Collaboration Agreement, dated as of November 2, 2018, between the Company and Lilly.”

Shares in the biotech fell shortly after the SEC filing was released – the company is also due to present at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

The reasons for the abrupt ending of the deal will hopefully bedome clearer after the presentation, which will be delivered by NextCure’s president and chief executive officer Michael Richman.

The initial deal was based on NextCure’s proprietary platform, designed to identify novel cell surface molecular interactions that affect immune function in the tumour environment and other disease sites.

The aim was to use the platform to discover new cancer targets, and develop and commercialise the resulting therapies.

Lilly gained exclusive rights to license any targeted antibodies discovered through the platform, with NextCure also having this option.

Last November, NextCure presented results from the phase 1 portion of its ongoing trial with NC318, its lead candidate. NC318 is a monoclonal antibody targeting Siglec-15 (S15), a protein which is expressed on highly immunosuppressive cells known as M2 macrophages and on tumour cells.

The trial included patients with non-small cell lung cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma, breast cancer and colorectal cancer and all were heavily pre-treated with a median of three prior therapies. Results from this trial demonstrated that NC318 was well tolerated with a range of responses, including one complete response.

NextCure said it was initiating the phase 2 portion of the ongoing trial of the immuno-therapy, and it may be within this study that NC318 underwhelmed.

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