A tremendous trio

CRI, Ludwig, MedImmune to test immunotherapy combinations for treatment of cancer

Kelsey Kaustinen
NEW YORK—A trio of industry andresearch leaders have come together to announce a unique partnership.The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the Ludwig Institute for CancerResearch and MedImmune, the global biologics arm of AstraZeneca PLC,have signed a collaboration agreement for the advancement ofimmunotherapy research in cancer. The research will be primarilyfocused on clinical trials that will test novel combinations ofimmunotherapies, including three of MedImmune's investigationalmonoclonal antibodies.

Under the agreement, CRI and the LudwigInstitute, which have been partners for more than a decade, willconduct the clinical trials through their jointly coordinated globalCancer Vaccine Collaborative network of clinical immunologists andoncologists. MedImmune will be responsible for providing thecompounds, which include CTLA-4 blocking antibody tremelimumab, anOX40 receptor agonist antibody and a B7-H1 (or PD-L1) blockingantibody. All three modify regulatory checkpoints in the immunesystem, and are capable of heightening the immune response to cancer.The agreement is expected to run 10 years initially, and financialterms were not disclosed.

The combinations tested will includethe three MedImmune compounds, as well as other agents available tothe CRI/Ludwig portfolio or that can potentially be accessed throughadditional partnerships.

Immunotherapies, which serve toincrease the immune system's ability to target and destroy cancercells, have the potential to be applicable across a range of cancertypes.
 
Dr. Edward Bradley, senior vicepresident and head of MedImmune's Oncology Innovative Medicinesunit, says this represents the "most expansive collaborationMedImmune has undertaken with an academic partner" in allowingaccess to three agents from its pipeline. He notes that the LudwigInstitute and CRI represented ideal partners with "a uniquecombination of skills, resources and focus unlikely to be duplicatedin a biotech or large pharma collaboration," and credits them withpioneering "many of the most important scientific advances inimmunotherapeutic approaches to cancer."

"MedImmune goes where the sciencetakes us to meet serious unmet patient needs. We have a strongtradition of collaboration with academic and other biotechinstitutions," says Bradley. "Leveraging our efforts with thoseof others with a similar focus allows us to make the best use of whatwe have and identify more opportunities than would exist if we stayedwithin our four walls. We are confident that opportunities that comefrom these collaborations, like the collaboration with the LICR/CRI,will contribute to the growth of our portfolio and our company."

Dr. Jonathan Skipper, executivedirector of technology development at the Ludwig Institute, notesthat while surgery, chemotherapy and radiation traditionally have"clear, defined success rates," not all patients benefit fromthem. Immunotherapies, he adds, by their very nature tend to haveless toxic side-effect portfolios, resulting in "a longer-lastingand safe therapy to benefit patients."

"The approval of Yervoy and theDendreon product before that have really triggered a major interestfrom the biopharma particularly and the pharma industry inimmunotherapy … There's a huge amount of effort being put intoidentifying and evaluating more novel immunotherapeutic agents, and Iimagine many of them will be successful," Skipper adds.

Adam Kolom, managing director of CRI'sCancer Vaccine Acceleration Fund, a venture philanthropy fund, agreesthat 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 realrenaissance in immuno-oncology that's unfolding … there areliterally thousands of new immunotherapies in clinical developmentright now, and based on our last count, between 50 and 100 that areeligible for potential FDA approval in the next three to five years,"says Kolom.

Kolom adds that collaborations such asthis 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 combinationsof immunotherapies with other immunotherapies, and with otherstandards of care, which leads to an issue since "an idealscientific combination might include a drug from Company A, andanother drug from Company B."

"We're solving that specificproblem," Kolom says. "We're creating a nonprofit source ofcapital, clinical trials management, scientific leadership and thenpartners with companies like MedImmune that allow us access to agentsthat will allow us to very selectively pick the most promisingimmunotherapy 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 waitingfor some of those combinations to materialize."



Kelsey Kaustinen

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