Amgen to ramp up early-stage immuno-oncology with 2 MD Anderson deals

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Amgen and MD Anderson previously partnered in 2015, soon after Blincyto, the former's leukemia drug that uses BiTE technology, scored FDA approval. (Amgen)

Amgen and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center inked a pair of research deals that will accelerate the development of several early-stage cell therapies and small molecules for blood cancers, small-cell lung cancer and other small-cell cancers.

The hope is that MD Anderson's translational medicine chops will speed up the journey of up to 16 preclinical and clinical programs in leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, multiple myeloma, small-cell lung cancer and other non-lung cancers with small-cell histologies.

The first agreement spans five years and will start with phase 1 clinical trials for bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE) and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell treatments for multiple myeloma and small-cell lung cancer, the partners said in a statement. The second agreement will last four years and focuses on BiTE, CAR-T and small molecules in leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. While CAR-T cells are engineered to better recognize tumor antigens and destroy cancer cells, BiTE antibody constructs "bridge" T cells to tumor cells, enabling them to attack cancer.

"The field of immuno-oncology is rapidly evolving and combining resources from both organizations could be important in answering key scientific questions,” said Patrick Hwu, M.D., division head of cancer medicine at MD Anderson.

This isn't the first time the duo has paired up. Soon after the FDA approved Blincyto, which uses the BiTE system to fight leukemia, Amgen partnered with MD Anderson on a new program aimed at identifying targets for this technology in myelodysplastic syndrome.

“These agreements build on a long history of collaboration between Amgen and MD Anderson, including a number of different efforts which helped to enable the advancement and regulatory approval of Amgen’s first bispecific T-cell engager,” said David Reese, M.D., senior vice president of translational sciences and oncology at Amgen. “We are pleased to work with MD Anderson to accelerate the translation of several of our early-stage oncology programs from the laboratory to the clinic.”