AbbVie pens oncology research pacts with academic teams

AbbVie HQ
AbbVie has added Johns Hopkins and Lurie Cancer Center to its list of oncology collaborators.

AbbVie has struck five-year cancer research pacts with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Northwestern University's Lurie Cancer Center. The similarly structured agreements give the academic centers access to new AbbVie therapies for use in preclinical research—and give the drug developer an option to license discoveries made by its new partners.

Both collaborations are starting out with an interest in the same set of cancers—lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and hematological—but could ultimately focus in on a subset of these indications. The research focus will be shaped by two joint steering committees that will decide which research projects AbbVie and its partners will undertake. AbbVie is also planning to hold annual symposiums to discuss the fruits of the collaborations and weigh up the merits of potential projects.

One objective is to unearth discoveries with the potential to make a difference to AbbVie’s prospects in cancer. If an advance in either collaboration catches its eye, AbbVie can exclusively license the discovery. AbbVie also sees value in exposing its researchers to the R&D teams at Johns Hopkins and Lurie Cancer Center, both of which also stand to gain from the exchange of knowledge.

The agreements are further evidence of AbbVie’s hunger for external expertise and innovations in oncology. Over the past couple of years the drugmaker has penned a string of deals—including a pact with the University of Chicago that mirrors the structure of this week’s agreements—to build out its pipeline and supporting infrastructure.

AbbVie’s takeovers of Pharmacyclics for $21 billion and Stemcentrx for at least $5.8 billion were its big-ticket deals. The size of both buyouts raised doubts about whether AbbVie is making smart moves in oncology. AbbVie has also formed R&D collaborations with argenx and CytomX Therapeutics that could ultimately be worth approximately $1 billion if all the milestones are hit.

In turning to Johns Hopkins and Lurie Cancer Center for expertise to complement these business development activities, AbbVie has followed a path created by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which works with both of the academic centers. Bristol-Myers signed up to work with Lurie Cancer Center on the development of immuno-oncology drugs targeting hard-to-treat subpopulations last year. And started working with Johns Hopkins to understand the effect of the tumor microenvironment and microbiome on responses and resistance to its PD-1 drug Opdivo last month.