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    Two local biotechs sign deals with New Jersey’s Celgene

    Celgene is in the process of being acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in a blockbuster $74 billion deal.
    Mel Evans/Associated Press/File 2005
    Celgene is in the process of being acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in a blockbuster $74 billion deal.

    Two local biotech startups working on potential cancer treatments said Friday that they have made deals to collaborate with Celgene, the New Jersey-based drug maker that’s being acquired in one of the biggest pharmaceutical mergers ever.

    Kyn Therapeutics, a Boston biotech, said it has signed an agreement with Celgene to develop immuno-oncology medicines. Kyn will receive an upfront cash payment of $80 million and an equity investment from Celgene, which will get exclusive options to license two drug development programs. Kyn is eligible for additional payments if it reaches specified goals for developing and marketing new medicines.

    “Celgene’s R&D capabilities and focus on groundbreaking biology are a strong strategic fit for Kyn’s programs,” said Mark Manfredi, chief executive of Kyn.

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    In a separate deal, Obsidian Therapeutics said it is collaborating with Celgene for the discovery and development of cell therapies based on technology invented by the Cambridge biotech. The deal features an upfront payment, equity investment, and other potential payments, but no details were disclosed.

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    If the collaborations succeed, one of the biggest beneficiaries will be a fourth company, the giant New York drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb. Bristol plans to buy Celgene for $74 billion in a mammoth deal that was announced on Jan. 3.

    The acquisition — the fourth-largest ever in pharma — would merge two of the largest firms in oncology, both of which have faced recent challenges. Bristol-Myers pioneered the use of cancer medicines that work by boosting the immune system. But its flagship blockbuster product, Opdivo, has been surpassed by a competing medicine from Merck, particularly for the treatment of lung cancer.

    Celgene, which is headquartered in Summit, N.J., has suffered a series of clinical and regulatory setbacks over the past year. The stock dropped 36 percent in the 12 months leading to the announcement of the merger, amid concerns that Revlimid, its blockbuster multiple myeloma drug derived from thalidomide, is losing patent protection.

    Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.