Bluebird and Celgene Narrow Cancer Therapy Development Pact

Updated on

Celgene Corp. narrowed a development pact with the gene therapy company Bluebird Bio Inc., choosing to focus on one target and return other candidates to Bluebird.

Celgene and Bluebird had made a broad agreement in 2013 to develop cancer treatments. Under the new terms, Celgene will pay Bluebird $25 million to fund early-stage studies of therapies that target B-cell maturation antigen, a protein that has been linked to blood cancers such as multiple myeloma, the companies said in a statement today.

“To be exclusive with one partner was not practical in the long term to remain flexible,” Rob Ross, Bluebird’s senior vice president of clinical development, said during a conference call with analysts.

Bluebird shares fell 2.7 percent to $178.04 in late trading in New York. The stock has increased more than eightfold in the last 12 months.

Under the 2013 agreement, Celgene made an undisclosed initial payment and was to give Bluebird as much as $225 million per drug in option rights and regulatory and clinical milestones to develop therapies that modify patient’s immune T-cells to target and destroy blood cancer cells, known as CARs. They would have split costs and profits.

Under the revised deal, Bluebird will regain rights to any product developed in its CAR program outside of B-cell maturation antigen, the companies said.

In animal testing, Bluebird’s leading candidate in the revised Celgene pact, called BB2121, “dramatically shrank” multiple myeloma tumors, and the cancer didn’t come back, Ross said. It hasn’t been tested in humans.

The rest of Bluebird’s CAR program includes candidates targeting both solid tumors and blood cancers, said Ross. He did not disclose the specific targets or mechanisms of the experimental drugs.

“BCMA is an area of strategic importance for Celgene, being the leader in hematology, as it is expressed in most myeloma cells,” said Brian Gill, a Celgene spokesman.

(An earlier version of this story misstated Celgene’s name.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE