Incyte pens cancer I-O pact with University of Pennsylvania’s cancer center

Incyte has been increasingly focused on its immuno-oncology pipeline over the past year.

Just 12 months ago, Incyte was hit with a major trial setback when its JAK inhibition drug for solid tumors flopped a key test. Since then the biotech has been looking to I-O combos, and today it has broadened its reach with a new cancer immunotherapy deal with the University of Pennsylvania.

Exact financial details and length of the collaboration have not been revealed, but the company said it has inked a “multi-year” deal with the Abramson Cancer Center, based out of the University of Pennsylvania.

Within the deal, Penn scientists will work with Incyte on their drug development efforts and help the company better understand their mechanisms of action that, Incyte says, will “further develops the clinical rationales for combination therapy and patient selection.” The pair will also team up to develop a bioinformatics program in clinical immunotherapy.

Incyte will provide undisclosed sums for these research programs, and could also work on extra grant-funded research with Penn investigators in other areas of cancer immunology.

“Incyte and Abramson are mutually committed to the advancement of science and improving the lives of patients with cancer. This alliance will allow us to mobilize two groups of leading scientists toward the collective goal of advancing the field of immunotherapy,” said Reid Huber, CSO at Incyte.

“We are excited for the opportunity to partner with the world-class researchers at Abramson and investigate new avenues for the treatment of patients with cancer.”

Penn researchers are also working on the early stages of the gene editing tech CRISPR, as well as on the “cousin” tech CAR-T at the Novartis-Penn Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics.

A year ago, Incyte stopped a range of studies for myelofibrosis med Jakafi (ruxolitinib) as well as the experimental INCB39110, another JAK1. Already halted on one colon cancer trial failure, Incyte also ended the phase 3 pancreatic cancer study, a separate midstage trial in colorectal cancer, a phase 2 for breast and lung cancers and a dose-ranging trial for INCB39110 in pancreatic cancer.

But since then it has been ramping up its efforts in I-O, with a late-stage combo trial announced in the summer with Merck that sees Incyte’s experimental oral IDO1 inhibitor epacadostat used alongside the Big Pharma’s marketed PD-1 Keytruda (pembrolizumab), as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced or metastatic melanoma.

It also published a broadly positive trial update from its small, phase 1 melanoma trial in October with Keytruda and epacadostat, and last month paid $53 million upfront for Calithera Biosciences’ small molecule arginase inhibitor CB-1158, which the biotechs see as complementing PD-1 drugs by reversing an immunosuppressive block that dampens the activity of immuno-oncology therapies.