A tremendous trio
NEW YORK—A trio of industry and research leaders have come together to announce a unique partnership. The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and MedImmune, the global biologics arm of AstraZeneca PLC, have signed a collaboration agreement for the advancement of immunotherapy research in cancer. The research will be primarily focused on clinical trials that will test novel combinations of immunotherapies, including three of MedImmune's investigational monoclonal antibodies.
Under the agreement, CRI and the Ludwig Institute, which have been partners for more than a decade, will conduct the clinical trials through their jointly coordinated global Cancer Vaccine Collaborative network of clinical immunologists and oncologists. MedImmune will be responsible for providing the compounds, which include CTLA-4 blocking antibody tremelimumab, an OX40 receptor agonist antibody and a B7-H1 (or PD-L1) blocking antibody. All three modify regulatory checkpoints in the immune system, and are capable of heightening the immune response to cancer. The agreement is expected to run 10 years initially, and financial terms were not disclosed.
The combinations tested will include the three MedImmune compounds, as well as other agents available to the CRI/Ludwig portfolio or that can potentially be accessed through additional partnerships.
Immunotherapies, which serve to increase the immune system's ability to target and destroy cancer cells, have the potential to be applicable across a range of cancer types.
Dr. Edward Bradley, senior vice president and head of MedImmune's Oncology Innovative Medicines unit, says this represents the "most expansive collaboration MedImmune has undertaken with an academic partner" in allowing access to three agents from its pipeline. He notes that the Ludwig Institute and CRI represented ideal partners with "a unique combination of skills, resources and focus unlikely to be duplicated in a biotech or large pharma collaboration," and credits them with pioneering "many of the most important scientific advances in immunotherapeutic approaches to cancer."
"MedImmune goes where the science takes us to meet serious unmet patient needs. We have a strong tradition of collaboration with academic and other biotech institutions," says Bradley. "Leveraging our efforts with those of others with a similar focus allows us to make the best use of what we have and identify more opportunities than would exist if we stayed within our four walls. We are confident that opportunities that come from these collaborations, like the collaboration with the LICR/CRI, will contribute to the growth of our portfolio and our company."
Dr. Jonathan Skipper, executive director of technology development at the Ludwig Institute, notes that while surgery, chemotherapy and radiation traditionally have "clear, defined success rates," not all patients benefit from them. Immunotherapies, he adds, by their very nature tend to have less toxic side-effect portfolios, resulting in "a longer-lasting and safe therapy to benefit patients."
"The approval of Yervoy and the Dendreon product before that have really triggered a major interest from the biopharma particularly and the pharma industry in immunotherapy … There's a huge amount of effort being put into identifying and evaluating more novel immunotherapeutic agents, and I imagine many of them will be successful," Skipper adds.
Adam Kolom, managing director of CRI's Cancer Vaccine Acceleration Fund, a venture philanthropy fund, agrees that the future looks promising for immunotherapy.
"I think over the next 10 years, there's pretty wide agreement that there's a backdrop of a real renaissance in immuno-oncology that's unfolding … there are literally thousands of new immunotherapies in clinical development right now, and based on our last count, between 50 and 100 that are eligible for potential FDA approval in the next three to five years," says Kolom.
Kolom adds that collaborations such as this are "more important than ever before" as companies look for "new ways to de-risk the process of identifying attractive drugs." Most of the field, he says, agrees that the next step is combinations of immunotherapies with other immunotherapies, and with other standards of care, which leads to an issue since "an ideal scientific combination might include a drug from Company A, and another drug from Company B."
"We're solving that specific problem," Kolom says. "We're creating a nonprofit source of capital, clinical trials management, scientific leadership and then partners with companies like MedImmune that allow us access to agents that will allow us to very selectively pick the most promising immunotherapy combination, and then investigate them in the clinic. And if they work, then all the companies involved can say, 'Hey, great. We have a new commercial product.' And philanthropically, for us, we're able to cut out potentially decades of time waiting for some of those combinations to materialize."