Lilly and Boehringer team up for experimental breast cancer trial pact

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Already having an existing collab in diabetes, Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim have today announced a new research pact, this time focused on breast cancer.

The two pharmas are seemingly still keen to work together outside of metabolic diseases, with Lilly in increasing need of more approvals and Boehringer wanting to build up its embryonic oncology portfolio.  

In a statement, the two companies said they will combine two experimental meds: BI’s insulin-like growth factor-1/IGF-2 ligand neutralising antibody BI 836845, and Lilly’s cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) 4 and 6 inhibitor abemaciclib.

The Phase Ib safety trial, set to start enrollment this year, will treat patients diagnosed with HR+/HER2-advanced breast cancer. Should the trial go well, the two said a midstage study could come in the future, with a broader focus on other solid tumors also on the table.

Dr. Mehdi Shahidi, medical head of solid tumor oncology at Boehringer, said: “Boehringer Ingelheim is excited about initiating this collaboration with Lilly to investigate a novel combination of two compounds that have individually shown promising results in metastatic breast cancer and have a complementary mode of action.

“We hope that this study will lay foundations for making much needed new therapies available to patients with metastatic breast cancer.”

BI’s candidate is believed to be able to reduce tumor growth, and in a recent, early-stage trial, BI 836845 showed some preliminary efficacy and safety when used alongside Novartis’ ($NVS) marketed cancer med Afinitor (everolimus) and Pfizer’s ($PFE) breast cancer treatment Aromasin (exemestane) in patients with HR+ metastatic breast cancer.

Meanwhile, Lilly’s abemaciclib is designed to block the growth of cancer cells by stopping CDK 4 and 6, which can lead to uncontrolled cell growth.

Why combine the two? Well, BI and Lilly are working on the theory that together, this cocktail therapy “could offer a more complete pathway interference and could potentially prolong cell cycle arrest.”

It could even, they say, help reverse resistance to hormone therapy for those with this particular subtype of the disease.

Boehringer gained its first cancer drug approval back in 2013 when the FDA gave the green light to its lung cancer med Gilotrif (afatinib). It is now looking to slowly build up a bigger pipeline and portfolio of oncology treatments.

Lilly has been in the cancer therapy game for years, with long-standing marketed drugs such as Alimta (pemetrexed), as well as Erbitux (cetuximab) and Gemzar (gemcitabine) being the stalwarts of its portfolio.

These are however now aging meds, and Lilly has not been at the forefront in the race for a new cancer class in PD-1 and PD-L1, and although it is working with Merck ($MRK) on trials with its PD-1 drug Keytruda combined with Alimta, does not have a marketed checkpoint inhibitor of its own.

Lilly has also not seen the approvals racking up in recent years, but has promised to deliver more on an additional 14 new product launches through 2023.

The FDA has already handed out a “breakthrough” tag for abemaciclib in breast cancer, which will be one of the hopefuls for a future approval, with trials also underway for a host of other cancers.

But Lilly is already playing catch-up with Pfizer and its CDK 4/6 inhibitor Ibrance (palbociclib), which has been on the market since 2015.

- check out the release

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