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AZ signs $20m deal with Seres for microbiome project

Shares in Seres shot up 25% after the deal was announced

AZ

AstraZeneca is funding a research project at Seres Therapeutics to explore how the bacteria in the gut can affect – and possible enhance – the effect of cancer immunotherapies.

AZ has agreed to pay Seres $20m in instalments over the next two years and will reimburse the US biotech for research expenses associated with the project, which could see one of Seres’ microbiome candidates – SER-401 – tested in combination with AZ’s cancer therapies including its PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi (durvalumab).

There is growing understanding that the billions of bacteria in the body, especially in the gut, play a crucial role in maintaining health, and that drugs which alter the balance of the microbiome could have a therapeutic role.

One of the targets of the AZ-backed project will be to see if the microbiome can serve as a predictor for which patients may respond best to certain immuno-oncology drugs. At the moment, it is estimated that only around a third of patients treated with single-agent checkpoint inhibitors respond to treatment, and it is hoped that changing the microbiome might improve outcomes.

Shares in Seres shot up 25% after the deal was announced, providing some welcome relief for investors in the biotech who have seen the value of their stakes yo-yo in the last couple of years after a mid-stage trial failure.

Just last month, the company announced it would cut a third of its workforce and trim down its clinical research pipeline to focus on a smaller number of high-priority programmes.

Channels between AZ and Seres were no doubt strengthened when the UK big pharma’s head of immuno-oncology combination programmes, Kevin Horgan, became Seres’ chief medical officer last October with responsibility for advancing its pipeline.

“Preclinical and early clinical evidence suggests that the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiome impacts clinical response to checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy and supports the hypothesis that modification of the microbiome may improve outcomes,” said Seres in a statement.

SER-401 is already in a phase 1b trial in collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Centre, sponsored by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, to see if the microbiome agent can improve the clinical outcomes of metastatic melanoma patients treated with currently-available immunotherapies.

Article by
Phil Taylor

12th March 2019

From: Sales

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