AbbVie pairs up another ADC cancer drug with Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo

The trial will be carried out in c-Met-positive non-small cell lung cancer.

AbbVie has joined forces with Bristol-Myers Squibb once again to test an experimental cancer drug with BMS' checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo in the hope of coming up with a new treatment cocktail.

Their latest collaboration will see PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) paired with AbbVie's antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) ABBV-399 in a phase 1b trial in non-small cell lung cancer, and specifically patients with tumors that overexpress the c-Met mutation.

Cancer immunotherapies such as Opdivo that remove brakes on the immune response to cancer cells are already transforming the treatment of some cancers, but many oncologists think there could be substantial additional benefits if they are combined with other drugs.

ADCs make an interesting addition to checkpoint inhibitor therapy for cancer, as they are targeted—designed to zero in on specific antigens expressed by cancer cells and deliver a toxic payload to kill them and leave healthy cells unscathed. It is hoped that combining that approach with the immune response-boosting effects of checkpoint inhibitors will improve their efficacy.

In the case of ABBV-399 (telisotuzumab vedotin), the ADC is designed to bind to and destroy cells that overexpress c-Met. The drug has shown activity against c-Met-positive NSCLC in early-stage trials.

The two companies have already started a collaborative phase 1/2 study of Opdivo and BMS' other marketed immune checkpoint inhibitor Yervoy (ipilimumab) with AbbVie's Rova-T (rovalpituzumab tesirine)—another ADC candidate which targets DLL3—in small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Data on Rova-T as a monotherapy for SCLC failed to impress at last year's ASCO meeting, causing some analysts to question the $5.8 billion shelled out by AbbVie for Stemcentrx.

The ABBV-399 trial will be carried out by AbbVie and is due to get underway later this year. The study will enroll c-Met-positive NSCLC patients who have failed first-line chemotherapy, but may be expanded in the future to include additional solid tumor types.

BMS has already worked closely with AbbVie on the development of SLAMf7-targeting drug Empliciti (elotuzumab), a treatment for multiple myeloma approved in 2015, and it suggested further collaborations between the two companies in cancer could also be in the cards.

"We continue to explore the potential of novel combinations of medicines with Opdivo, and AbbVie’s investigational treatments will help evaluate the role of new targets in combination with immunotherapy," said Fouad Namouni, M.D., BMS' head of cancer drug development.

"We look forward to continuing to partner our PD1 with AbbVie's early- and late-stage assets as a possible treatment option for patients with lung cancer."