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AZ swells immuno-oncology pipeline with Innate deal

Deal gives access to natural killer cell immunotherapy

AstraZeneca has enlisted the aid of France’s Innate Pharma as it tries to make up ground in immuno-oncology, licensing a mid-stage checkpoint inhibitor and taking an option on five earlier-stage programmes.

The main subject of the deal is Innate’s anti-NKG2A antibody, monalizumab (IPH2201), which targets a pathway thought to inhibit the activity of natural killer (NK) and cytotoxic T-cells in cancer.

Mondher Mahjoubi

Mondher Mahjoubi

There are established ties between the two companies, as monalizumab is already being trialled in combination with AZ’s PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi (durvalumab), which stems from an initial $250m option agreement signed in 2015. Innate is run by former AZ executive Mondher Mahjoubi, who made the move to the CEO role at the French biotech last year, and as part of the deal AZ has taken a 9.8% stake in its partner.

It looks like AZ is impressed with the potential of monalizumab to improve the activity of its checkpoint inhibitor, and it now wants full rights to the drug in return for a $100m payment due early next year.

Moreover, with AZ still playing catch-up in the immuno-oncology category with the likes of Merck & Co/MSD and Bristol-Myers Squibb, the company has also agreed to pay $50m for an option on anti-CD39 candidate IPH5201, which is in preclinical development and - like monalizumab - is thought to inhibit an immunosuppressive pathway in the tumour microenvironment. For another $20m, AZ also gets an option on four other immuno-oncology molecules from Innate’s pipeline that have yet to be agreed.

AZ has started to make some headway with Imfinzi but its sales are dwarfed by earlier checkpoint inhibitors such as MSD’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and BMS’ Opdivo (nivolumab). A recent approval in early-stage lung cancer should help build momentum, but the company has suffered setbacks with the drug as well, including a failure to hit the first of two primary endpoints in the MYSTIC trial of Imfinzi plus AZ’s experimental CTLA4 inhibitor tremelimumab in first-line lung cancer treatment.

Now, the company has added to the options at its disposal as it tries to bring forward combinations of cancer immunotherapies that can enhance the activity of the first-generation PD-1/PD-L1 drugs.

There’s also some money flowing in the other direction, as Innate is licensing US co-commercial rights to Lumoxiti (moxetumomab pasudotox) - AZ’s recently-approved hairy cell leukaemia therapy - in the US for $50m upfront and $25m in milestone payments. Innate will take sole responsibility for selling the product in the US by mid-2020, and the deal helps its goal of developing a commercial group that will support its wholly-owned drug programmes.

The AZ deal is a boost for Innate after it was forced to abandon BMS-partnered checkpoint inhibitor lirilumab last year on failed trials in head and neck cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia.

24th October 2018

From: Sales

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