AbbVie has announced a $10.1 billion cash deal to buy ImmunoGen, a biotech company that develops antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) for cancer treatment. The acquisition will bolster AbbVie’s oncology pipeline and solidify its position in the rapidly growing ADC market.
ImmunoGen’s lead product is Elahere, an ADC that targets the folate receptor alpha (FRα) on ovarian cancer cells. Elahere received accelerated approval from the FDA in November 2022 for patients with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer. In a confirmatory trial, Elahere demonstrated an overall survival benefit in this patient population, making it the first drug to do so.
AbbVie’s CEO Rick Gonzalez said on a conference call that entering the solid tumor space was a “strategic priority” for the company, and that ImmunoGen offered an “extremely compelling opportunity”. He added that ImmunoGen’s ADC technology and pipeline were “highly complementary” to AbbVie’s own oncology portfolio.
The deal will also allow AbbVie to join the ranks of other major pharma companies that have invested heavily in ADCs, such as AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Gilead Sciences, GSK, Merck & Co. and Pfizer. ADCs are a class of drugs that combine antibodies with potent cytotoxic agents, delivering them selectively to cancer cells while sparing healthy tissues. ADCs have emerged as one of the most promising modalities in oncology, with several approvals and blockbuster sales in recent years.
AbbVie was an early adopter of ADCs, having licensed Seagen’s (formerly Seattle Genetics) ADC technology for a single cancer target in 2011, when AbbVie was still part of Abbott. However, AbbVie’s first major ADC acquisition, Stemcentrx, turned out to be a disappointment. Stemcentrx’s lead ADC, Rova-T, failed to show efficacy in multiple trials for small cell lung cancer, leading AbbVie to abandon the program in 2019.
AbbVie hopes to redeem its ADC reputation with ImmunoGen, as well as with its own ADC candidate, Teliso-V. Teliso-V is an ADC that targets the c-Met receptor on lung cancer cells. AbbVie recently reported positive results from a phase 2 trial of Teliso-V in patients with advanced nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer who are EGFR wild type. AbbVie plans to seek an accelerated approval for Teliso-V based on these data.
ImmunoGen has several other ADCs in its pipeline, including IMGN-151, a second-generation FRα-targeted ADC that could potentially treat other cancers besides ovarian cancer. ImmunoGen also has an ADC that targets CD123, a marker of a rare blood cancer called blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, in phase 2 development.
AbbVie is a leader in blood cancer, with its BTK inhibitor Imbruvica, co-marketed with Johnson & Johnson, as a key product. However, the drug faces increasing competition from rival products by AstraZeneca and BeiGene.
In addition to Teliso-V, AbbVie has several other ADCs in early-stage development. These include a c-Met successor named ABBV-400, two SEZ6-targeting agents, ABBV-011 and ABBV-706, and drugs against B7-H3, CD19 and LRRC15.
AbbVie’s CEO Rich Gonzalez revealed on the company’s third-quarter earnings call that AbbVie chose to focus on its own ADC pipeline rather than seeking a deal with Daiichi Sankyo, which has partnered with AZ and Merck on ADCs. He was answering a question about Daiichi and Merck’s recent blockbuster ADC agreement.
“We have what we need with [ABBV-400],” Gonzalez said. “We own that platform, which we developed internally, and we believe it will provide us with everything we need in that area,” he added.
AbbVie anticipates that the acquisition of ImmunoGen will be completed by mid-2024.