ddn Cancer Research News Exclusive: When giants take the stage

MD Anderson, GSK to partner on cancer immunotherapy antibodies

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HOUSTON—The field of immunology is getting another boostwith the signing of a new research collaboration and license agreement betweenthe University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).The two organizations will be working to develop therapeutic antibodies thatcan engender an immune system response against cancer.
Per the agreement, MD Anderson will grant GSK exclusiveworldwide rights to develop and commercialize the antibodies, which werediscovered by Yong-Jun Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues when he was professorand chair of MD Anderson's Department of Immunology. Through its Institute forApplied Cancer Sciences (ICAS), MD Anderson will collaborate with GSK toconduct the preclinical research on the antibodies. MD Anderson will receive anupfront license payment as well as funding for IACS research collaborationactivities, and will be eligible for development, regulatory and commercialmilestone payments as well as royalties from commercial sales of any productsthat result from the agreement. The deal has a potential total deal value ofmore than $335 million.
"This agreement is not only a tribute to the ability ofMD Anderson scientists to discover new targets and potential therapies againstthose targets for cancer patients, it's also a testament to the vision sharedby GSK and MD Anderson that successful clinical development of oncology drugsrequires seamless integration of drug development expertise and deep biologicalknowledge," IACS Director Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., said in a pressrelease. "The IACS was formed to enable precisely such integration to expeditethe accurate translation of great science into drugs."
Draetta says that when they started looking at projectswithin MD Anderson's annals that would be worth moving toward commercializationand started looking at industry partnerships, the OX40 partnership emerged asone that was very interesting and also one that attracted interest within theindustry. Finding a partner that they could work well with and being able tofully utilize the knowledge they had developed surrounding OX40 was animportant component in their search, he says.
"We really wanted to capitalize on that and make sure thatthis is a true partnership," says Draetta, "and that's when I think we foundwith GSK that the new leadership in immunology—the complete agreement on howimportant it is to work together. You want to work with people that have thesame passion."
T cells, a type of white blood cell or lymphocyte producedby the thymus, are one of the most important parts of the immune system,responsible for targeting sick or infected cells. The antibodies that MDAnderson and GSK will seek to develop will work by activating OX40 on thesurface of T cells. OX40 is a secondary or co-stimulatory receptor protein, andin a recent study by researchers at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapyat Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the molecule was found to cause CD4+T cells, which coordinate the immune system's attack, to heighten their immuneattack on cancerous cells. The protein, once activated, also blocks suppressorsof immune response.
"T cell recognition of a tumor antigen is not enough toactivate the T cells against cancer cells, they need a secondary signal to tellthem 'that antigen you have is a bad thing, you have to attack,'" saidLiu, chief scientific officer and vice president of the Baylor ResearchInstitute of the Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, in a statement.
Liu and colleagues generated and screened hundreds ofantibodies in their search for any that could activate OX40 by mimicking OX40L,its natural activator, and came up with a handful of agonists which they testedin mice and then altered for human use. If preclinical drug development underthe agreement is successful, the antibodies will move on to clinical trials.
Draetta says they expect to see the targeting of OX40 beeffective in multiple cancer types, adding that he does not expect OX40 to be"a one-off, I think that there's going to be other potential products comingfrom our team."
Eric Devroe, Ph.D., executive director of strategicalliances at MD Anderson, says he expects the market for cancer immunotherapyto continue to grow.
"I think there's a tremendous interest across the board, beit in clinicians getting access to some of the agents under development, bigpharma, as you've seen with this GSK deal…as well as venture capitalistsinterested in putting forth new companies around these themes of thinking in avery big way," says Devroe.

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