Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) has agreed an exclusive license deal for Agenus’ bispecific antibody programme, gaining access to the company’s preclinical anti-TIGIT asset.

Agenus’ AGEN1777 is a preclinical antibody candidate designed to target major inhibitory receptors expressed on T and NK cells to bolster anti-tumour activity by blocking TIGIT and a second undisclosed target.

In preclinical studies, using this approach has demonstrated potential in tumour models where anti-PD-1 or anti-TIGIT monospecific antibodies alone are not effective.

BMS will pay Agenus $200m upfront and up to $1.36bn in development, regulatory and commercial milestones as well as tiered double-digit royalties on net product sales as part of the agreement.

In return, BMS will become solely responsible for the development and subsequent commercialisation of AGEN1777 and any related products globally.

Under the terms of the agreement, Agenus will retain options to conduct clinical studies under the development plan and undertake combination studies with some of its other pipeline assets.

Agenus can also choose to co-promote AGEN1777 in the US, depending upon commercialisation of the asset.

“AGEN1777’s differentiated mechanism of action provides the potential for potent anti-tumour activity; catalysing our clinical TIGIT strategy aimed at serving more patients with unmet needs in cancer,” said Debbie Law, senior vice president, head of tumour microenvironment thematic research centre, BMS.

“We look forward to working with Agenus to develop this important therapy as we continue to combat I-O resistance,” she added.

Agenus is planning to file an investigational new drug application (IND) for AGEN1777 with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the second quarter of the year.

Meanwhile, BMS will advance the research and development of the bispecific antibody in immuno-oncology for ‘high priority’ tumour indications such as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).