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Lexington biotech licenses experimental cancer drug to Bristol Myers Squibb for $200m

It’s the biggest such deal for Agenus since the company was founded in 1994.

Garo Armen is chief executive of Lexington biotech Agenus.
Garo Armen is chief executive of Lexington biotech Agenus.Agenus

The Lexington-based biotech Agenus has licensed an experimental cancer-fighting drug to the pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb for $200 million, the biotech’s largest licensing deal since it was founded in 1994.

Agenus, which works on medicines that harness the body’s immune system to treat cancer, said Tuesday that Bristol Myers Squibb will advance the development of an immuno-oncology drug that shows promise against tumors, including non-small cell lung cancer.

If the drug meets development, regulatory, and commercial milestones, Agenus could receive up to $1.36 billion more, under the agreement with New York-based Bristol Myers Squibb. Agenus has no approved drugs on the market.

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Debbie Law, a senior vice president for the multinational pharmaceutical giant, said Agenus’s experimental drug shows “potential for potent anti-tumor activity.”

Garo Armen, the chairman and chief executive of Agenus who cofounded the firm in 1994, said Bristol Myers Squibb has a “stellar record of success” in developing immuno-oncology drugs. Bristol Myers Squibb’s marketed cancer drugs include Opdivo, which was approved to treat melanoma by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2014.

Agenus, which is publicly traded and has about 360 employees, has cut deals with other large drug companies in recent years, including one in 2018 with California-based Gilead Sciences. Under that agreement, Gilead paid the biotech $150 million to help develop and market up to five immuno-oncology drugs.


Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.