AstraZeneca to Pay Inovio Up to $700 Million for Cancer Drug

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AstraZeneca Plc agreed to pay Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. as much as $727.5 million for rights to an experimental cancer vaccine, its third deal in a week to secure access to new tumor-fighting drugs.

AstraZeneca’s Medimmune unit will pay Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania-based Inovio $27.5 million up front and as much as $700 million if its medicine, which targets cancers caused by the human papillomavirus, reaches certain development and commercial milestones, the London-based company said in a statement.

AstraZeneca is seeking drugs it can combine with its stable of immune oncology products, designed to harness the body’s immune system to fight tumors. Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said combination therapies will give the company an edge as it races Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co., Merck & Co. and Roche Holdings AG to develop a new generation of cancer treatments. Last week, AstraZeneca announced partnerships with Heptares Therapeutics and Mirati Therapeutics.

Inovio considered working with one of the other companies developing immune therapies, but “liked MediImmune because they were a little bit more hungry,” said Chief Executive Officer Joseph Kim. “They will do what it takes to leapfrog the other players.”

Inovio’s vaccine, called INO-3112, is in early to mid-stage clinical trials for cervical and head and neck cancers. AstraZeneca will shoulder all development costs for the drug and Inovio will be entitled to royalties on product sales. The two companies also agreed to develop up to two additional DNA-based cancer vaccine products not included in Inovio’s current product pipeline.

Cancer vaccines have had a “dismal” record up to now, Kim said. Inovio’s drug is different because it uses DNA sequencing technology to activate the T-cells that attack tumors, he said.

“The bottom line, it’s all about the T-cell,” Kim said.