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AZ adds cancer vaccine to immuno-oncology portfolio

Firm's biologics unit adds to string of oncology deals in 2015

AZ London HQ 

AstraZeneca has signed a strategic-level licensing deal with Inovio for cancer vaccines that flesh out its cancer immunotherapy pipeline.

AZ's MedImmune unit is paying $27.5m upfront and $700m in developmental and commercial milestones for global rights to Inovio's human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine INO-3112, which is in early-stage clinical trials to treat cervical and head and neck cancers.

The agreement comes hard on the heels of two other deals signed by AZ last week with Heptares and Mirati, which in turn extended a lengthening list of collaborations designed to bolster AZ's position in immuno-oncology.

MedImmune will test the DNA vaccine - which targets cancers caused by HPV type 16 and 18 - in combination with its own cancer immunotherapies, which are currently led by PD-L1-targetting checkpoint inhibitor durvalumab (MEDI4736).

In addition, MedImmune and Inovio will work together on the development of two additional DNA-based cancer vaccine products that are not in Inovio's current product pipeline. MedImmune will have exclusive rights to market these products.

INO-3112 is actually a combination of two vaccines - an HPV-targeting component called VGX-3100 to initiate a T lymphocyte immune response and a plasmid coding for interleukin-12, called INO-9012, that boosts it.

The result is what Inovio claims is a 'best-in-class' T cell-stimulating therapy, generating fully functional cells in high quantities without unwanted inflammatory responses.

According to the company's chief executive Joseph Kim, using this approach alongside checkpoint inhibitors that helps to overcome tumour cell mechanism that hide and protect from T cells promises to provide more robust responses.

While clinical trials of checkpoint inhibitors such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo (nivolumab) and Merck & Co's Keytruda (pembrolizumab) have revealed a astride forward in efficacy "the fact is that [these drugs] have not exceeded overall response rates of 20% to 40%.

"As was expressed by leading oncologists at ASCO this year, this technology alone is not adequate," he told investors yesterday on the firm's second-quarter results call.

Inovio has retained rights to VGX-3100 in its lead indication of HPV-associated pre-cancerous conditions, an indication for which is due to start phase III testing next year, said Kim. He told investors yesterday that data from its phase II trial of the vaccine will likely be published in a peer-review journal before the end of the year.

For Inovio, the deal with AZ is its second high-level pharma collaboration in the last three years, adding to a wide-ranging alliance with Roche for the development of hepatitis B and prostate cancer immunotherapies.

Article by
Phil Taylor

11th August 2015

From: Research

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