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AstraZeneca steps up cancer immunotherapy research

MedImmune unit will study anti-PD1 drug in combination with Advaxis’ cervical cancer vaccine

MedImmune, AstraZeneca's biologics R&D divisionAstraZeneca (AZ) today announced a deal to study its promising cancer immunotherapy in combination with a cancer vaccine developed by the biotech Advaxis.

AZ's biologics arm MedImmune and Advaxis will collaborate on a phase I/II study to evaluate the anti-PD1 therapy MEDI4736 alongside the vaccine ADXS-HPV, which protects against the development of human papillomavirus (HPV) - a virus that can lead to certain cancers.

The study will evaluate the treatment regimen in patients with both advanced cervical cancer and head and neck cancer that is associated with HPV.

The collaboration is a sign of AZ's confidence in immuno-oncology, a burgeoning area of cancer medicine that uses the body's own immune system to fight the disease.

AZ's head of oncology research Susan Galbraith touted the potential of cancer immunotherapies in a recent interview with PMLiVE, saying “it's clear already that this is a very important area of biology”.

MEDI4736 is AZ's leading prospect in the area and the drug has demonstrated potential in a wide variety of cancers, including lung cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and renal cell cancer. The drug's potential meant it formed one of the cornerstones of AZ's defence against a takeover bid from Pfizer.

Dr Bahija Jallal, who heads the MedImmune unit, said the deal was “further evidence' of the company's commitment to develop novel combinations in cancer immunotherapy.

“We believe there could be an important clinical benefit from the combination of MEDI4736 with Advaxis' antigen-specific cancer vaccine,” she said.

The terms of the deal mean Advaxis is not bound by an exclusive relationship with regards to HPV collaborations, although MedImmune has first right of negotiation for future development of combinations involving MEDI4736 and ADXS-HPV.

The collaboration adds to existing deals that AZ has struck in the immuno-oncology field, including a partnership with Incyte to study MEDI4736 with Incyte's oral indoleamine dioxygenase-1 (IDO1) inhibitor, INCB24360. 

Despite these prospects AZ remains behind both Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and Merck & Co when it comes to getting an anti-PD1 drug to market.

BMS this month had its therapy nivolumab approved under the brand name Opdivo in Japan, while Merck & Co's pembrolizumab has been accepted for review in Europe. In both cases, the regulatory filings were for each drug's use in melanoma.

Article by
Thomas Meek

22nd July 2014

From: Research

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