AstraZeneca announced today that its research and development unit, MedImmune, has acquired Spirogen, an oncology-focused biotech company, for $200 million upfront with additional amounts of up to $240 million paid at specific achievement milestones. Founded in 2001, Spirogen has developed a class of cytotoxic warheads based on its proprietary pyrrolobenzodiazepines (PBDs), which possess the ability to block the division of cancer cells without distorting the DNA helix, thus potentially avoiding the common phenomenon of drug resistance.

“This deal reflects the very significant progress made by our scientists,” Dr. Chris Martin, chief executive officer of Spirogen, stated in a press release. “We believe that pyrrolobenzodiazepine-armed antibody-drug conjugates will emerge as a critical component in the next generation of cancer biologics with the potential to make a difference for oncologists and their patients.”

MedImmune has also made a $20 million equity investment in Swiss-based ADC Therapeutics while entering into a collaboration agreement for two of that company’s oncology programs. ADC Therapeutics specializes in the development of proprietary Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADCs) targeting major cancers such as breast, lung, prostate, renal, and blood.

In its annual report, filed with the SEC on March 21, 2013, AstraZeneca announced its strategic priorities as including leveraging acquisition opportunities to strengthen the product pipeline. Oncology is a core therapy area for AstraZeneca, which, through MedImmune, has been developing a portfolio with an emphasis on antibody-drug conjugates and immune-mediated cancer therapy.

London-based Spirogen has been developing its PBD technology for over 10 years. Its lead oncology drug candidate, SG2000, has completed solid tumor Phase I studies in the U.S. and Europe; a Phase II study in cisplatin refractory ovarian cancer is underway in the U.S., and a haematological Phase II study is planned in Europe. Spirogen’s strategy has been to partner its technology with pharma and biotech for use in the development of novel drugs. It has a number of molecules in early-stage development along with industry collaborations, including one with Genentech and one with ADC Therapeutics, which has retained the option to co-promote one of the products it is developing under the auspices of MedImmune in the U.S.

“Antibody-drug conjugates are ground-breaking technologies with the potential for directly targeting many types of cancer tumours while safeguarding healthy cells," Dr. Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of MedImmune, stated in a press release. "The cutting-edge technologies developed by Spirogen and ADC Therapeutics complement MedImmune’s innovative antibody engineering capabilities, enabling us to accelerate antibody-drug conjugates into the clinic.”

A global biopharmaceutical business based in London, AstraZeneca discovers, develops, and commercializes prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune, oncology, infection, and neuroscience diseases. Maryland-based MedImmune is the worldwide biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries worldwide.