Eli Lilly is once again expanding its scope in the radiopharmaceuticals space by entering into a multi-target discovery collaboration agreement with private biotech Aktis Oncology. 

Lilly will give Aktis $60m in an upfront payment, with the biotech also having access to $1.1bn in milestone-based payments and royalties on sales.  

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Under the terms of the agreement, Lilly will gain worldwide rights to develop targets for radiopharmaceuticals discovered by Aktis. However, the deal does not include Aktis’ current pipeline, which consists of seven programmes.  

Aktis previously received backing from pharma giants Merck & Co, Novartis, and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) when it closed a $84m Series A extension round in August 2022. Aktis’ therapies kill cancer cells by delivering targeted radiation that damages the DNA of the cells. Its lead candidate targets nectin-4, a protein overexpressed in certain cancers including breast and bladder cancer.  

In October 2023, Lilly signed a definitive agreement for the acquisition of all outstanding shares of radiopharmaceutical company POINT Biopharma for an all-in cash price of $1.4bn. Point’s pipeline includes two lead programmes, PNT2002 and PNT2003, which are in Phase III clinical trials for prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours respectively. 

The radiopharmaceuticals market is booming following a series of recent deals. Novartis is a major player in the field, having acquired Mariana Oncology in a $1.75bn transaction earlier this month. Novartis will acquire Mariana’s lead candidate MC-339, a radioligand therapy (RLT) designed to target small-cell lung cancer. In 2023, Mariana had raised $175m in a Series B round from Eli Lilly and other funds. 

In February 2024, BMS acquired clinical-stage radiopharma RayzeBio for $4.2bn after signing an agreement in December 2023. A Phase III trial of lead candidate RYZ101 (²²⁵Ac-DOTATATE) is currently ongoing for the treatment of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (GEP-NETs) and extensive stage small cell lung cancer (ES-SCLC). 

According to GlobalData, venture financing for US-based companies with radiopharmaceutical drugs between 2018-2023 saw a total deal value of over $1.2bn. 

GlobalData is the parent company of Pharmaceutical Technology. 

Whilst there is a rise in venture financing for radiopharmaceuticals, the development of these drugs can come with challenges. Biopharma companies must navigate supply chain issues, considering the short half-life of radioisotopes.  

In the announcement accompanying the collaboration, Lilly’s president said: “This collaboration with Aktis Oncology builds upon our growing radiopharmaceutical capabilities and provides access to an exciting and innovative technology for creating important and differentiated radiopharmaceuticals.”