Vivek Ramaswamy eyes an I/O vant with up to $2B licensing deal

Has Vivek Ramaswamy found the seed of his next vant?

On Monday, Roivant announced a rare partnership deal, signing an agreement with the German immuno-oncology small-cap Affimed worth $60 million upfront and up to $2 billion in milestones. For all the company’s sprawling tentacles, it’s the first time since their 2018 pact with Daiichi Sankyo that Roivant itself has announced a licensing agreement with another developer and one of the largest deals, in terms of biobucks, they’ve ever disclosed.

The agreement centers on Affimed’s bispecific antibody platform, the same one that Genentech signed on for in a $5 billion deal back in 2018. Roivant will receive rights to an antibody known as AFM32, a preclinical candidate Affimed has been developing for multiple, undisclosed targets.

Roivant can also receive rights to other new antibodies for targets Affimed is not currently aiming for, potentially seeding a new spinout with a full pipeline. Affimed will be in charge of development through IND, with Roivant picking up the ball thereafter.

A Roivant spokesperson confirmed in an email that the Affimed candidates would likely eventually serve as the basis for a new company.

He added that the deal was part of a strategic shift in the company as, on the heels of a handful of successful late-stage trials, they look to plow more cash and expertise into discovering new preclinical molecules.

Although Ramaswamy’s web of startups have extended into a motley of disease areas, the company has largely avoided immuno-oncology to date. They now align themselves with an offbeat but increasingly popular approach to the field; rather than focus on T cells, Affimed develops antibodies that try to bridge innate immune cells to tumors.

Genentech teamed on antibodies meant to jack natural killer cells — an approach a slew of biotechs are now attempting — but the company also develops antibodies to direct cancer-eating cells known as macrophages against tumors.

Roivant will hope to steer a smoother path than Genentech did after the partnership. Affimed was forced to abandon a Phase I after a patient death just weeks after signing their deal with the big biotech. The partnership continues, though, with Affimed receiving a milestone payment after a jointly developed BCMA-bispecific entered the clinic earlier this year.

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