AZ extends cancer collaboration with Immunocore

AstraZeneca’s biologics arm MedImmune is to research yet another combination of immuno-oncology treatments, as it vies to join the leaders in this cutting-edge therapy area.

The firm has unveiled a collaboration with UK biotech firm Immunocore to develop a new combination of its investigational checkpoint inhibitor MEDI4736 (anti-PD-L1) and/or tremelimumab (anti-CTLA-4) with IMCgp100, Immunocore’s lead T-cell receptor-based investigational drug.

Immunocore’s proprietary technology uses a new approach, which focuses on small protein molecules called ImmTACs (Immune Mobilising mTCR Against Cancer) that enable the immune system to recognise and kill cancerous cells.

The combination will be tested in patients with metastatic melanoma – the cancer that is becoming one of the key battlegrounds for rival immunotherapy drugs.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMS) Opdivo (nivolumab) was approved as the first PD-1 drug to treat advanced melanoma in July last year, with Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) following close behind with US approval in September.

Since then, the two front runners have extended their lead with new data across a range of other cancers, meaning the chasing pack, which includes MedImmune, need to find their own niches within the fast-changing field.

MedImmune believes that adding MEDI4736 and tremelimumab to Immunocore’s novel ImmTAC therapy with provide another promising combination to extend the lives of cancer patients.

The new deal builds on a pre-existing research collaboration and licensing agreement between the companies announced in January 2014.

Dr Ed Bradley, senior vice president and head of the Oncology Innovative Medicines unit at MedImmune reiterated the company’s belief in the potential of combining different immunotherapy drugs – a strategy being pursued through a flurry of licensing and development deals across the sector.

The value of the PD-1s in advancing melanoma treatment has just been proven, with a new trial showing Keytruda out-performing current standard of care Yervoy.

MedImmune’s tremelimumab is in the same class as BMS’s Yervoy, and therefore may face an uphill struggle to prove its value in a fast-changing field.

Meanwhile the most advanced trial of its PD-L1 drug MEDI4376 is in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the cancer type where immunotherapy could have the biggest impact.

MedImmune commenced phase III trials of MEDI4376 in lung cancer a year ago, however BMS has taken the lead in this field, having gained US FDA approval for Opdivo in March.

AstraZeneca/MedImmune is expected to gain a slice of the immuno-oncology market, but may find BMS and Merck have seized the earlier mover advantage in many of these key fields.

Related article

Keytruda beats Yervoy in first-line melanoma

Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.