This interview is part of our new Blockchain In Healthcare series, where we interview the world's leading thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between blockchain and healthcare.
In this interview we speak with Dr. Garo Armen PhD, Chairman and CEO at Agenus, to understand how his company is using blockchain to transform the healthcare business, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind Agenus? Why and how did you begin?
GA: I’m a motivated biochemist, financial analyst and business leader. But, as a child and refugee to the United States, I tended to my mother while she died from cancer. Agenus was founded as immuno-oncology was emerging in 1994. Whether through the lab or acquisition, we sought to develop a pipeline with agents that target cancers from various angles. In 1H2019, discovery platforms will have resulted in 13 INDs, including six INDs from 2018. Agenus’ pipeline and integrated capabilities allow for the flexibility to design combinations in-house, with a greater commercial flexibility. Agenus now employs some 300 people: 180 at its Lexington, MA, headquarters; 50 in Cambridge, UK; and 60 at its antibody manufacturing facility in Berkeley, CA.
2. Please describe your use case and how Agenus uses/will use blockchain:
GA: Our Biotech Electronic Security Token (BEST) is healthcare’s first digital security offering. The use of this tokenization qualifies investors to invest directly in a single biotech product while preserving shareholder equity. BEST, powered by blockchain technology, enables us to revolutionize the financing of drug development. This new, open-source investment mechanism essentially shifts control to a more collaborative dynamic, opening investment to a larger, more diverse group of investors, essentially democratizing the process of investment. With BEST, fintech and biotech align to create a targeted financing option intended to drive efficiencies and advantages in drug development.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has your service done for them?
GA: The Biotech Electronic Security Token (BEST) is geared for more efficient funding for a development-stage therapeutic drug rather than traditional methods. Our first issuance of BEST opens the door for investors to participate in the future revenue stream of AGEN2034, an anti-PD1 antibody. This is among our more advanced pipeline assets currently in clinical development, with plans for potential commercialization.
BEST has potential to become an alternative to traditional equity or debt financing, allowing investor exposure to specific biotech products. Security tokens provide attractive returns available currently to institutional investors through closely held royalty transactions and could offer liquidity to investors both before and after revenues are generated in the underlying asset. Accredited investors, individuals and institutions, can buy BEST. For biotech companies, BEST offer a means of minimizing dilution and improving the efficiency of capital allocation for specific development stage products. Proceeds from our first BEST issuance will be used primarily to expand AGEN2034 clinical targets beyond the current second-line cervical cancer indication and optimize commercial readiness, including manufacturing.
Today, BEST is a financing mechanism for Agenus’ anti-PD-1 antibody; in the future, we believe this tool has the potential to transform pharmaceutical development and commerce. BEST represents an opportunity for us to access additional capital to help accelerate development of one of our lead assets; for investors, this financing vehicle provides an efficient means of investing in specific programs rather than the entire Agenus portfolio. Further, an Electronic Security Token can transform financing options for many other industries with specific product development needs.
4. Where will Agenus be in five years?
GA: We hope to be making a vital difference in patients’ lives. Enrollment in our two clinical trials (in cervical cancer) support a BLA filing that has progressed faster than predicted. Clinical data from these trials may come before year end or early 2020. That means we may be able to file our first BLA earlier than 2020. The first of these trials is our PD-1 monotherapy trial in 2L cervical cancer and the second is a combination trial of PD-1 and CTLA-4, also in 2L CC.
Enrollment in our second generation CTLA-4 trial is also moving swiftly. We believe this second generation CTLA-4 could be a best in class molecule. It has the potential to expand the commercial potential of our PD-1 beyond what first Gen CTLA-4 combination offers. We anticipate early clinical readouts of this second Gen CTLA-4 also by year end. We plan to commence combination trials of our second generation CTLA-4 with our own PD-1 in the next several months. Clinical data from our second gen CTLA-4 could represent a very important value inflection point for us for defining our own US commercial opportunity as well as for our ability to monetize on the ex-US right for this molecule.
In addition to these, we anticipate bringing multiple high-impact treatments for cancer patients that include cancer vaccines and agents that target tumor escape mechanisms. These agents are now undergoing rapid development and we anticipate clinical data soon.