Amgen signs $1 billion cancer biotech deal

Amgen is set to pay $1 billion for US biotech firm BioVex, in the process gaining access to its novel cancer vaccine OncoVEXGM-CSF.

OncoVEXGM-CSF is a first-in-class oncolytic vaccine candidate designed to treat melanoma and other solid tumours as well as treating genital warts.

Amgen, the world’s biggest biotech company, will make an upfront cash payment of $425 million to BioVex and up to $575 million in additional milestone payments.

The deal, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, is due to be completed in March and BioVex will then become a wholly owned subsidiary of Amgen.

Roger Perlmutter, Amgen’s executive VP of R&D, said: “OncoVEXGM-CSF has demonstrated encouraging anti-tumour activity in clinical studies for the treatment of melanoma and head and neck cancer.  

“Amgen is particularly excited about joining with BioVex and its talented staff to focus on advancing this late stage investigational therapy, with the hope of bringing it to market within the next few years.”

Philip Astley-Sparke, chief executive of BioVex, said: “Amgen is ideally positioned to leverage the potential of OncoVEX in multiple solid tumor indications given their impressive oncology franchise and expertise in biologics manufacturing and development.

“We have a shared vision and commitment to bring novel therapeutics to market and we are looking forward to being able to combine our efforts towards this common goal.”
Cancer vaccines such as BioVex’s OncoVEXGM-CSF are a relatively new direction for pharma, with a number of candidates for various cancers now in clinical trials.

Ahead of these and leading the field is Dendreon’s Provenge, which was the first cancer vaccine to market and is set to be a blockbuster after it won FDA for a prostate cancer indication in May last year. 

Amgen's 2010 results

Meanwhile, Amgen has just reported 2010 results that saw the US biotech’s revenue grow by 3% to $15.1 billion.

Amgen’s biggest seller, the arthritis and psoriasis drug Enbrel, could only manage a 1% rise to $3.5 billion and sales of anaemia treatment Aranesp fell by $166 million to $2.5 billion.

The last 12 months did also see approvals for the company’s Prolia and Xgeva, but Amgen’s current 2011 revenue projections of $15.1 - 15.5 billion would hardly lift it above flat sales growth this year.

Ben Adams