Industry giants join MD Anderson's star team for cancer immunotherapies

You can chalk up another marquee industry player for MD Anderson Cancer Center's translational research program for new cancer immunotherapies. J&J's ($JNJ) new innovation group has signed up to work with Jim Allison, the noted cancer drug researcher who was lured away from Memorial Sloan-Kettering in late 2012 to head up a new collaboration at MD Anderson in Texas aimed at developing a new generation of cancer immunotherapies.

The move comes just days after Pfizer signed on.

MD Anderson has been bringing in major league partners for what it calls 6 "moon shots" which will target 8 cancers. After the PD-1 and PD-L1 checkpoint immunotherapies from Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Merck ($MRK) and Roche ($RHHBY) gained center stage at ASCO last year, other players have been scrambling to catch up. And the chance to work with Allison, who played the lead role in the development of the pioneering cancer drug Yervoy, is proving a real temptation for some high-profile players.

MD Anderson is vowing to keep its list of collaborators down to a select few.

The Houston cancer center says it has invested $40 million in its immunotherapy research platform, including a grant that was used to lure Allison away from New York. And among the research programs it has underway are at least two projects aiming at customizing a T cell attack on cancer.

"Our new collaborations with pharmaceutical and biotech companies through our immunotherapy platform are different from traditional agreements, because they allow both parties to work on any project they deem appropriate without additional budgets," said Ferran Prat, MD Anderson's vice president of strategic industry ventures, in a statement. "We provide our pharma and biotech collaborators access to state-of-the-art facilities, novel research protocols for clinical trials open to our large and diverse patient population, and an opportunity to work with leaders in the field of immunotherapy."

- here's the release