Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) expanded its cancer immunotherapy footprint on Tuesday with a large investment into a privately held biotechnology company called Pionyr Immunotherapeutics. Gilead spent $275 million up front for a 49.9% equity stake and an exclusive option to acquire the rest of the company if potential new cancer immunotherapies in pre-clinical stage development succeed in clinical trials. 

Myeloid tuning 

Pionyr has two antibodies in pre-clinical stage development designed to boost the immune system's response to tumors. PY314 targets TREM2, a protein commonly found on the surface of myeloid cells that suppress anti-tumor activity. PY159 targets TREM1, another protein found on a wider variety of immune cells that suppress the immune system from battling cancer.

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It's going to be a long time before we know if this solution that appears to work in laboratories has a chance in the real world. These treatment candidates haven't been given to actual patients, and Pionyr doesn't plan to file the required investigational new drug applications until the third quarter of the year.

Options ahead

If the Food and Drug Administration gives Pionyr's candidates a green light, clinical trials with PY314 and PY159 could commence in early 2021. If Gilead likes what it sees during phase 1 studies with either one of Pionyr's candidates, the big biotech can exercise an exclusive option to acquire the rest of the company.

Gilead's famous for antiviral treatments for infectious diseases, including remdesivir for COVID-19, but this isn't the company's first oncology deal. Earlier this year, Gilead acquired Forty Seven for $4.9 billion, and in 2017, the company splashed out with the $11.9 billion acquisition of Kite Pharma.

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