Homing in on hematology
March 2012
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


SUMMIT, N.J.—Celgene Corp. started 2012 off with an eye toward protein silencing therapeutics, snatching up privately held Avila Therapeutics Inc. in a definitive merger agreement.
Per the terms of the agreement, Celgene will acquire Avila for $350 million in cash, with the potential for as much as $195 million more in milestones based on the development and regulatory of AVL-292, Avila's most advanced product candidate, as well as up to $380 million in potential milestone payments based on the development and regulatory approval of candidates generated from the Avilomics platform. The transaction has been approved by the board of directors of both Celgene and Avila, and is expected to close during the first quarter of 2012.  
"Avila Therapeutics is a remarkable company that is aligned with our commitment to improve the lives of patients worldwide through innovative science and disease-altering therapies," Dr. Tom Daniel, president of research and early development at Celgene, said in a press release. "In particular, we see Avila's unique approach to protein silencing as an area of great promise for our research initiatives in hematology, oncology and immune-inflammatory diseases."
Avila specializes in targeted covalent drugs, and in addition to sharing cancer as a therapeutic area of focus with Celgene, Avila also focuses on viral infection and autoimmune diseases. The company's pipeline is based on its proprietary Avilomics platform. Targeted covalent drugs are small-molecule medicines that can silence disease-causing proteins. The drugs form durable bonds with the targeted proteins, shutting down activity throughout the life of the protein. As a result, targeted covalent drugs offer selectivity and efficacy against mutations, and also represent the possibility of a decrease in side effects. On its website, Avila notes that there are currently more than 38 covalent drugs that have gained U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in the fields of oncology, inflammatory, central nervous system, anti-infectives and vascular and gastrointestinal disorders.  
AVL-292, a highly selective Bruton's tyrosine kinase (Btk) inhibitor and Avila's lead candidate, is currently in Phase I clinical testing as a treatment for lymphoma and autoimmune diseases. Btk plays a significant role in the development and activation of B cells, and inhibition of Btk represents a promising approach for treating B-cell driven diseases, including hematologic cancers such as B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The drug candidate bonds to Btk to silence its activity, and preclinical studies proved AVL-292 to be effective in animal disease models. In addition, Avila has also developed a companion covalent probe technology that is capable of determining how much of the target protein was bonded by the drug.
The acquisition is a good fit for Celgene in terms of focus compatibility. As Celgene already has experience in the field of hematologic cancers, including seven hematology compounds in various stages of clinical development in its pipeline, the acquisition of Avila supplements its foothold within that therapeutic area. In addition, Avila's approach expands upon Celgene's own current drug discovery methods, as Celgene works on therapies that operate through gene and protein regulation.  
"Celgene and Avila are uniquely matched, both strategically and scientifically," Katrine Bosley, Avila's CEO, said in a press release. "Celgene's global leadership in hematology and emerging franchise in immune-inflammatory diseases will accelerate and expand the clinical development of our Btk inhibitor program. Equally important, we value the high standards of creativity and rigor of Celgene's scientists. We believe working together may accelerate the advancement of more innovative medicines from the Avilomics platform."  
The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including the expiration of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust act. Celgene expects that the acquisition will be neutral to 2012 non-GAAP diluted earnings guidance.  

Code: E031221

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