Novartis acquires immunotherapy specialist CoStim

Novartis is broadening its presence in cancer immunotherapy by buying a private biotech company specialising in the field.

CoStim Pharmaceuticals is a Cambridge, MA-based biotechnology company focused on harnessing the immune system to eliminate immune-blocking signals from cancer.

Researchers have identified key immune system mechanisms which control cancer, and new therapies which stimulate a targeted immune response are one of the most exciting areas in R&D today.

Many of the leading pharma companies now have cancer immunotherapy molecules either already on the market or in development. In particular, a new class of cancer immunotherapy drugs called anti PD-1 drugs are tipped to be a major step forward in cancer treatment. Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche are currently in a three-way race to bring the first anti-PD-1 cancer immunotherapy drug to market.

These drugs hold out the promise of circumventing cancer’s ability to develop resistance against current single drugs.

Merck’s MK-3475 is currently in pole position – it has started a ‘rolling submission’ of the drug to the FDA for patients with advanced melanoma who have been previously treated with BMS’ Yervoy (ipilimumab). This application is expected to be completed in the first half of 2014.

Meanwhile Novartis is working on an immunotherapy with a different mechanism. It is working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania investigative on a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology. The acquisition of CoStim gives Novartis late discovery stage immunotherapy programmes directed to several targets, including PD-1.

“Therapy for many types of cancers are expected to increasingly rely upon rational combinations of agents,” said Dr. Mark Fishman, President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. “Immunotherapy agents provide additional arrows in our quiver for such combinations. They complement our extensive portfolio of drugs that hit genetically-defined cancer-causing pathways, and also may be relevant to expansion of CAR therapies.”

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