NantWorks buys control of cancer vaccines with $50M Precision Biologics investment

Placing a bet in a field that has swelled with attention in the last year, biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong and his NantWorks umbrella organization are dropping $50 million into Dallas-based Precision Biologics and its lineup of proprietary cancer vaccines.

The investment brings NantWorks control of Precision Biologics and its "promising novel pipeline of therapeutic antibody candidates that target advanced pancreatic and colorectal cancers," Soon-Shiong said in a statement. Through the deal, the companies plan to join Precision's library of cancer vaccines with the diagnostic and immunotherapy technologies at NantWorks and NantOmics.

The biotech's lead candidate recently completed Phase IIa enrollment in advanced pancreatic and colorectal cancer and is enrolling for a Phase IIb trial in advanced pancreatic cancer, the release said. Also in Precision's pipeline are two novel antibodies that bind to antigens found in pancreatic, colorectal and other types of cancer to trigger an immune response. In early Phase II data, the antibody pancreatic cancer candidate demonstrated "promising early" results and received Orphan Drug status, the release said.

Precision Biologics CEO Philip Arlen

In a statement, Precision CEO Philip Arlen said his company is "extremely pleased and fortunate to collaborate and be associated" with Soon-Shiong, adding that the companies "share a vision to improve cancer care through precision medicine."

The investment is the most recent deal in a spree of action for NantWorks and its subunits in the past year that included the record $2.6 billion IPO for NantKwest ($NK) over the summer. And in the larger cancer vaccines field, the investment comes amid a wave of activity in the space demonstrated by several high-profile partnerships within the year and two Series A rounds just this month in Gritstone Oncology and Neon Therapeutics. One report over the summer predicted cancer vaccines to grow at a CAGR of 27% through 2019.

- here's the release