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Novartis enters PD-1 race via CoStim acquisition

Expands presence in cancer immunotherapies
Novartis building

Novartis has reached a deal to acquire US company CoStim Pharmaceuticals, expanding its position in the hot topic of cancer immunotherapy.

Boston, Massachusetts-based CoStim - which started operations in 2011 and was incorporated last year - is developing antibody drugs that target immune 'checkpoint' inhibitors for a number of oncology indications.

Details on the company's technology remain sketchy but Novartis said it is working on "harnessing the immune system to eliminate immune-blocking signals from cancer" and using antibodies to circumvent cancer's ability to develop resistance against current single drugs.

CoStim has a number of late-discovery stage immunotherapy programmes directed to several targets, including PD-1, said Novartis, adding that the portfolio complements its own work on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania.

PD-1 is one of the most exciting targets in cancer research at the moment, with companies such as Merck & Co, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche and AstraZeneca all vying to bring anti-PD-1 drugs to market. Of these Merck appears to be in the lead, as it has filed a rolling marketing submission for its MK-3475.

Anti-PD-1 drugs are designed to work by reducing the ability of cancer cells to mask themselves from the body's immune system, and their potential in combination with other therapies seems backed up by Merck's recent announcement of a series of collaborations on MK-3475 with other drugmakers.

The Cancer Research Institute (CRI) describes immunotherapy as the greatest advance in cancer treatment since the development of the first chemotherapies in the late 1940s.

"Therapy for many types of cancers are expected to increasingly rely upon rational combinations of agents," commented Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

"Immunotherapy agents provide additional arrows in our quiver for such combinations. They complement our extensive portfolio of drugs that hit genetically-defined cancer-causing pathways, and also may be relevant to expansion of CAR therapies."

According to a filing with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), CoStim's board of directors includes a number of figures from Atlas Ventures and MPM including Robert Millman who is acting as its president.

Article by
Phil Taylor

17th February 2014

From: Research

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