Sanofi has exercised its option to license a natural killer (NK) cell engager programme from French biotech Innate Pharma.

Sanofi licensed the unnamed programme as part of an expanded collaboration agreed between the two companies in December 2022, according to a joint 19 December press release. As per the deal, Sanofi will pay Innate €15m ($16.4m).

Innate and Sanofi will now work together in the programme’s research phase. Sanofi will then take over development, manufacturing, and commercialisation responsibilities.

Innate and Sanofi initially entered a research collaboration and license agreement in 2016. Sanofi licensed two NK cell engager programmes from Innate in a €400m ($437.5m) milestone payment structured deal.

The two molecules licensed in 2016, namely IPH6101 and IPH6401, are both in clinical studies. IPH6101 is currently in Phase II trials for myelodysplastic syndrome and various types of leukaemia. IPH-6401 is in Phase II trials for relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma (RRMM) and relapsed/refractory Light-chain amyloidosis (RRLCA).

The two companies expanded their partnership in 2022 to allow Sanofi to license additional targets. As part of the deal, Sanofi licensed an NK programme targeting the immune checkpoint protein B7H3. The deal included a €25m upfront payment and a potential €1.35bn in developmental, regulatory, and commercial milestones, as well as royalties on potential net sales.

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The expanded deal gave Sanofi the option to license two additional programmes, with the current undisclosed asset taking one of the spots.

Innate is developing NK programmes on its antibody-based NK cell Engager Therapeutics (ANKET). NKs are involved in the body’s first line of immune defence, which can recognise and destroy cancer cells. Innate is developing therapies that activate NK cell receptors such as CD16 and NKp46. Other approaches include preventing NK inactivation by blocking inhibitory checkpoint receptors.

Innate’s chief scientific officer Eric Vivier said: “We have been collaborating with Sanofi since 2016 and together we have made significant progress in advancing multi-specific NK Cell Engagers for the treatment of various cancers with two programmes now in the clinic.”

In October, Bloomberg News reported that Sanofi was exploring a potential acquisition of cancer drugmaker Mirati Therapeutics, which has a market cap of $4.055bn.