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Gilead expands Tango alliance, continuing a busy year of cancer deals.

Gilead expanded a 2018 deal with privately held Tango Therapeutics, announcing it has added up to 10 potential oncology targets to the five the big biotech already agreed to option for development. Tango will receive $125 million in cash and will sell $20 million worth of shares to Gilead.

The deal covers targets in the "immune evasion" space, which describes the genes that allow tumor cells to evade the body's natural defenses to pathogens. If Tango's approach is successful, the resulting drugs could provide options that will supplement existing treatments, either in combination or as an additional line of therapy after relapse.

The Tango collaboration is one of several oncology deals Gilead has struck under CEO Dan O'Day, who came to the drugmaker from cancer powerhouse Roche. The biggest was the $4.7 billion paid to acquire Forty Seven, which also focuses on drugs that spur an immune response to cancer.

The original Gilead-Tango deal saw the big biotech pay $50 million and offer up to $1.7 billion in milestone payments and royalties in exchange for the option to gain rights to five targets.

The expansion clarifies Gilead's main interest in immune evasion, leaving Tango in complete ownership of its other work in tumor suppressor genes and so-far unknown genetic mutations that drive cancer growth. One of those programs will be in late pre-clinical work to enable an application next year to start human testing, the company said.

The new arrangement will also boost the total value of potential milestones and other fees to more than $6 billion.

Under the terms of the deal, Gilead can pay an "extension fee" that will leave development of experimental drugs in the hands of Tango into early clinical studies. Tango also will be able to co-develop and co-promote up to five drugs that emerge from the collaboration.

One potential strength of the Tango approach is that it could result in drugs for clearly defined genetic patient subsets. Narrowly targeted cancer drugs that are accompanied by a genetic test that can identify eligible patients often have a quicker development track and a shorter regulatory review than those aimed at broader populations. 

The revamped alliance is the fifth oncology deal sealed this year by Gilead's busy business development team, transactions that have made clear its focus in immuno-oncology. Previous licenses with Tizona, Pionyr and Arcus also were for early-stage assets aimed at either stimulating immune responses to cancer or blocking tumor's defenses against immune cells, while buying Forty Seven outright gave Gilead magrolimab, which is being tested in a patients with a number of blood cancers and disorders.

If successful, these agents would beef up an immuno-oncology portfolio led by the cell therapies Yescarta and Tecartus, which came from Gilead's acquisition of Kite Pharma. Those therapies have resulted in disappointing sales, but the company sees a potential to build a bigger business around them.

Author:Jonathan Gardner


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