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Novartis aims to lead immuno-oncology category

Firm believes its immuno-oncology pipeline will help it overtake leader Roche

Novartis building

Novartis told investors yesterday that it is well placed to take a leading position in the emerging field of cancer immunotherapy.

The Swiss company already claims to be the number two company in cancer - after Roche - and believes it can close the gap by combining its strength in targeted cancer therapies with its immuno-oncology pipeline.

The assertion comes despite the fact that Novartis is behind the leaders in the immuno-oncology category - notably Merck & Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche and AstraZeneca - and stems from what it sees as a broad presence across multiple therapeutic categories.

The recent acquisition of cancer drugs from GlaxoSmithKline - which included Votrient (pazopanib), Tafinlar (dabrafenib), Mekinist (trametinib) and Promacta (eltrombopag) - added to its portfolio of targeted cancer therapies that can be combined with immuno-oncology drugs to improve clinical outcomes.

The GSK drugs achieved net sales of $2bn last year, but Novartis believes it can three of the four a blockbuster in its own right "through market expansion and new indications", for example by extending the indications for Tafinlar and Mekinist beyond melanoma and into non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and colorectal cancer.

Combining these targeted therapies with immuno-oncology candidates - some developed in-house and others via collaborations - means that Novartis now has drug candidates targeting 15 cancer-related pathways and a broad range of tumour types, according to the company.

Pharma head David Epstein told investors in Boston yesterday that the company is on course to have three checkpoint inhibitors in clinical trials before the end of the year, including its anti-PD1 candidate PDR001 that it acquired after buying CoStim Pharma last year.

PDR-1 is well behind already-marketed rivals Keytruda pembrolizumab) from Merck and BMS' Opdivo (nivolumab), but will be joined in the clinic later this year by LAG-3 and TIM-3 checkpoint inhibitors - LAG525 and MBG453. Meanwhile, combinations of these drugs with PDR001 will also start trials in the coming months, said Epstein.

He also highlighted other immuno-oncology candidates, including STING agonist MIW815 - licensed from Aduro Biotech - which has been shown to enhance immune responses to tumours in mice and should start phase I next year.

Novartis does seem to have a lead in cellular immunotherapy CAR-T, which is based on the use of harvested and engineered T cells to stimulate immune responses to tumours, and sees this as a third pillar that can be added to its combination therapy portfolio in cancer. 

The company's lead project CTL109 is already in trials for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) and multiple myeloma, while a second candidate has just started trials in glioma, a form of brain cancer, and another in acute myeloid leukaemia should start trials before the end of the year. 

All told, Novartis claims to have an "industry-leading" pipeline with 74 new molecular entities (NMEs) in development, more than 500 trials ongoing and more than 300 trials planned to start by the end of next year.

Article by
Phil Taylor

19th June 2015

From: Sales

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