Aduro stung as Novartis drops work on STING drug

Aduro Biotech started the year badly with cuts and a refocus: It’s now ending the year on an equally bad note after a quiet Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) posting says Big Pharma partner Novartis is dropping work on a STING agonist from the biotech.

In an SEC filing, Aduro said Novartis “has removed ADU-S100 (MIW815), an intratumoral STING pathway activator product candidate, from its portfolio based on clinical data generated to date,” adding that this wasn’t due to safety concerns.

Novartis spent $750 million on a pact with Aduro in 2015 but will now be halting early-stage combo tests it had undertaken with ADU-S100 based on lackluster clinical data.

But the drug is not completely dead: Aduro said an ongoing phase 2 for ADU-S100 alongside Merck’s Keytruda as a first-line treatment for recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma continues.

RELATED: Novartis tackles immuno-oncology with a $750M Aduro deal for new R&D group

“Aduro is also preparing to initiate a clinical trial of ADU-S100 as an intravesical monotherapy for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) in the second half of 2020,” the biotech said in the SEC filing, but these are now funded only by Aduro.

The biotech noted that the “collaboration and license agreement between Novartis and Aduro otherwise remains in effect, and both parties continue to jointly pursue STING pathway activation through systemic delivery as a therapeutic strategy.”

Back in January, Aduro hit the reset button, laying off about 37% of its workforce to throw all of its resources behind a handful of lead programs: namely, those assets that target the STING pathway, including ADU-S100, and APRIL pathways, both of which target cancer.

The biotech was down 14% in early trading Wednesday morning.