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AZ advances immuno-oncology ambitions

Buys imaging company and signs PD-1 collaborations with Pharmacyclics and J&J

AstraZeneca headquarters

AstraZeneca (AZ) reaffirmed its plans to become a major player in cancer immunotherapies with several new deals agreed today, including the takeover of imaging company Definiens and two PD-1 research collaborations.

AZ, which has this year been a takeover prospect of Pfizer, announced the $150m acquisition of Definiens, a Germany-based company specialising in imaging and data analysis technology to help identify cancers in tumour tissue.

MedImmune - AZ's biologics division - will take full control of Definiens and its technologies, including its Cognition Network Technology, developed by Nobel Laureate Prof Gerd Binnig. This tool measures the identity, locations and relationships of the various components that make up tumours in order to identify biomarkers.

This is significant for AZ as it is researching several personalised oncology immunotherapies, which target specific cancers defined by genetic mutations present in a limited number of patients.

Definiens' technology will help AZ better identify suitable patients for treatments, and potentially develop companion diagnostics for its drugs, which include Iressa (gefitinib) for lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutation.

Mene Pangalos, executive VP of innovative medicines and early development at AZ, said: “Harnessing this groundbreaking technology will reinforce our approach to developing companion diagnostics that help us in selecting the patients who would benefit the most from therapies across our small molecule and biologics portfolios.”

The area of diagnostics is becoming a key part of AZ's oncology ambitions as it puts personalised medicines at the forefront of its research. The company has existing collaborations in the area with Horizon Discovery, Illumina and Qiagen.

PD-1 partnership with J&J and Pharmacyclics

AZ also announced today it is teaming up with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pharmacyclics to investigate its promising anti-PD1 immunotherapy MEDI4736 in combination with the recently approved Imbruvica (ibrutinib).

The research will break down into two separate deals: one involving AZ, Pharmacyclics and J&J subsidiary Janssen and the other involving just AZ and Pharmacyclics.


Imbruvica is approved for the treatment of relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

The deal involving all three companies will see the trio investigate the combination of MEDI4736 and the oral Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor Imbruvica in patients with haematological cancers including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

A two-part trial will be conducted by Pharmacyclics, while financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

The other agreement will see AZ and Pharmacyclics - the inventor of Imbruvica - team up to investigate cancer combinations across both solid tumours and haematological cancers.

The partnership will focus initially on the combination of MEDI4736 and Imbruvica in solid tumours, while there are further plans to investigate two of AZ's investigational PI3 kinase pathway inhibitors in combination with Imbruvica in haematological cancers.

Other companies looking into the potential of their PD-1 drugs in combination with Imbruvica include Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), which is investigating the drug in combination with its Opdivo (nivolumab) in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

4th November 2014

From: Research



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