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Lilly and AZ forge closer immuno-oncology bond

Look to boost their presence in a market predicted to be worth $30bn in 10 years
Lilly building

AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly have agreed to work more closely together on cancer immunotherapy by testing combinations of their drugs in solid tumours.

Under the terms of the deal Lilly will lead the studies, with both companies contributing funding and resources, although other financial details have not been disclosed. The two firms have also not indicated which cancers will be targeted in the alliance.

They did reveal however that the trials would combine AZ's anti-PD-L1 drug durvalumab with various Lilly candidates, including TGF-beta kinase inhibitor gulisertib, a CXCR4 peptide antagonist and an anti-CSF-1R monoclonal antibody. The latter will also be tested in tandem with AZ's CTLA4 blocker tremelimumab.

Other combinations are also covered by the agreement. Lilly's abemaciclib CDK4/6 inhibitor will be trialled alongside AZ's breast cancer therapy Faslodex (fulvestrant), while Lilly's anti-VEGFR antibody Cyramza (ramucirumab) and anti-EGFR necitumumab will be combined with AZD9291, AZ's third-generation EGFR inhibitor.

The two companies are already working on joint clinical trials of durvalumab and Lilly's fast-growing VEGFR2 antagonist Cyramza (ramucirumab).

Lilly has a lot of ground to make up in the cancer immunotherapy sector compared to rivals such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck & Co, but has been signing collaborations to boost its presence in a market expected to be worth around $30bn in the next 10 years.

These have been focused on either combining Lilly's targeted cancer drugs with immuno-oncology drugs from other firms, or adding immuno-oncology candidates to its own pipeline.

For example, in May the company signed a deal with BioNTech to develop T cell receptor (TCR) targeting compounds. It also has an alliance with Immunocore that will combine gulisertib and Lilly's multi-kinase inhibitor merestinib with Immunocore's small-molecule TCR-targeting drugs.

News of the alliance between AZ and Lilly came as the latter shrugged off recent patent expirations to report third-quarter revenues up 2% to $4.96bn.

The increase was driven by uptake of Cyramza, which brought in $111m in the quarter, as well as recently-launched diabetes therapy Trulicity (dulaglutide) which added another $74m. Diabetes drug Jardiance - partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim - added $15m, a little below expectations, although it is widely tipped as a future blockbuster after becoming the first drug of its type to boost survival in trials.

A 33% increase in animal health revenue - thanks to Lily's recent acquisition of Novartis' veterinary franchise - also helped to offset sharp drops in sales of antidepressant Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Evista (raloxifene) for osteoporosis.

Article by
Phil Taylor

23rd October 2015

From: Research

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