AZ joins with Seres to research role of gut microbiome in cancer

AstraZeneca has announced an immuno-oncology collaboration with US biotech Seres Therapeutics, which will focus on increasing understanding of the gut microbiome in order to increase efficacy of cancer immunotherapy.

The tie-up is based on preclinical and clinical evidence suggesting that the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiome affects the clinical response to checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy.

Evidence supports the hypothesis that modification of the microbiome may improve clinical outcomes with this kind of therapy.

Under the collaboration, researchers will evaluate microbiome-based approaches as a predictor for which patients may respond best to certain cancer immunotherapies.

Seres’ investigational microbiome therapeutic SER-401 may also be studied in combination with AstraZeneca compounds targeting various cancers.

Under the terms of the exclusive collaboration, AstraZeneca will provide Seres with $20 million in three equal installments over two years, with the first payment due at the start of the agreement.

AstraZeneca will also reimburse Seres for research activity related to the collaboration. Seres will maintain rights to oncology targeted microbiome therapeutic candidates, and AstraZeneca will obtain the option to negotiate for rights to those drugs and other inventions arising out of the collaboration.

AZ has a PD-L1 class checkpoint inhibitor on the market – Imfinzi (durvalumab) – but results have been mixed.

The drug has failed to produce convincing results in the lucrative first-line lung cancer indication, where Merck & Co’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) has become standard of care.

While Imfinzi has been FDA-approved in previously treated patients with advanced bladder cancer, and certain patients with unresectable lung cancer, getting the drug to work in a broader range of cancer indications is therefore a priority for AZ.

Jean-Charles Soria, senior vice president of research and development oncology at AstraZeneca, said: “Despite progress in the field of immunotherapy, we are only at the tip of the iceberg. Too many patients are still unable to benefit from existing therapies, so we must continue following the science in pursuit of new and innovative solutions.”

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