Forty Seven lines up Roche as second partner for CD47 cancer immunotherapy

Forty Seven has added Roche to its partner list for its CD47-targeted immuno-oncology candidate, with Roche’s Genentech unit agreeing to sponsor two trials of the antibody in combination with its PD-L1 inhibitor Tecentriq.

It’s the second I-O partnership signed for lead drug Hu5F9-G4, coming after a link-up with German drugmaker Merck KGaA last November to test the drug in combination with its recently approved Bavencio (avelumab) in a phase 1b ovarian cancer trial.

The new partnership with Roche will help the Stanford University spinout—which launched in 2015—to accelerate trials of Hu5F9-G4 in another solid tumor and blood cancer, with Genentech funding trials of the antibody plus Tecentriq (atezolizumab) in bladder cancer and acute myeloid leukemia.

CD47 was identified nearly a decade ago by Stanford researcher Irv Weissman, M.D., and colleagues as being overexpressed on AML cells, with higher expression linked to poorer outcomes in patients with this type of leukemia.  According to the company—which says it is the first to start trials of a CD47 candidate—it acts as a “don’t eat me” signal that prevents cancer cells being attacked and destroyed by macrophages.

News of the partnership comes shortly after Forty Seven added another $75 million to its coffers in a series B round—raising its total fundraising to $150 million—plus a $5 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to support trials of Hu5F9-G4 in AML and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

The biotech’s chief business officer, Craig Gibbs, Ph.D., said, “There is a large unmet medical need for new therapies for AML and bladder cancer patients, particularly those who are elderly or have compromised organ function and are not able to withstand the side effects of chemotherapy. We are excited to evaluate these novel combinations in collaboration with a global leader in oncology.”

Along with the new combination studies, Forty Seven has phase 1 trials of its antibody on the go as a monotherapy in solid tumors, AML and MDS, as well as studies in combination with Roche’s Rituxan (rituximab) in B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Eli Lilly and Merck’s Erbitux (cetuximab) in colorectal cancer.

Other competitors have also joined the race, with Alexo Therapeutics, Celgene and Trillium Therapeutics among those testing CD47-targeting drugs in humans, but signing two large pharma partners should help keep Forty Seven in pole position.