Zymeworks Partners with Celgene on the Development of Bispecific Antibodies

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Under terms of the agreement, Zymeworks could earn up to $164 million per successful drug candidate.


The bispecific antibody market is really heating up. Roche partnered with Dutalys late last year for the manufacture of bispecific antibodies. Novo Nordisk is partnering with Xencor to investigate these agents as well.

Celgene will now join the roster of pharmaceutical companies investigating the monoclonal antibodies which are engineered to recognize two targets at once. Biotherapeutics company Zymeworks announced on Jan. 21, 2015 that it is partnering with Celgene for the development of bispecific antibodies based on Zymeworks’ proprietary Azymetric platform. Through the deal, Zymeworks will receive an upfront payment, an equity stake, royalties on net sales, and commercial milestones totaling up to $164 million per successful therapeutic candidate. In return, Celgene will have the option to develop and commercialize the bispecific candidates that result from the partnership. The precise targets under investigation by Celgene in this collaboration have not been disclosed.

Zymeworks’ CEO Ali Tehrani said in a release that with Celgene’s “meaningful equity investment” the company would be able to push its internal oncology pipeline candidates “towards multiple [investigational new drug applications] INDs in 2016 and beyond.” Zymeworks also has similar partnerships surrounding the development of bispecific antibodies with companies such as Eli Lilly and Merck. The partnership with Eli Lilly was originally signed in Jan. 2014 and expanded in Oct. 2014; the agreement with Merck was originally signed in 2011 and expanded in 2014, according to David Poon, PhD, senior director of external R&D and alliances at Zymeworks.


"Zymeworks’ internal therapeutic candidates are being produced at various contract manufacturing organizations, including CMC Biologics," Poon told BioPharm International. "The Azymetric bispecific antibodies are produced using standard antibody production methods in CHO [Chinese hamster ovary] cells without the reliance on specialty expression and purification technologies."

Beginning in late 2014, Zymeworks began collaborating with Dennis J. Slamon, MD, PhD, from the University of California, Los Angeles to explore potential clinical indications in breast cancer for a number of Zymeworks’ bispecific antibodies. Tehrani believes Slamon's expertise with cell lines in breast cancer will also help Zymeworks' oncology portfolio reach human clinical trials and multiple INDs in 2016.