Lilly firms up cancer collaboration with Dana-Farber

Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president of global development and medical affairs at Lilly Oncology. (Lilly)(Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly must be seeing value in its broad-ranging research collaboration with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as it’s extending the partnership for another three years.

When the two first got together three years ago, the link-up was hailed as a “new kind of collaboration” between a cancer center and a large pharma company, with Dana-Farber contributing its expertise to multiple preclinical and clinical cancer programs in the hope of shortening drug development times.

Under the model, the two collaborate on preclinical and clinical studies, with Lilly allowing its partner to run independent studies using some of the company's proprietary compounds. They also work together on molecular analyses of patient samples.

Lilly retains the rights to all candidates involved in the deal but, for now, the fruits of the alliance are being kept under wraps. The company said that the work with Dana-Farber has, however, resulted in new drugs as well as progress toward “new indications, novel combinations and biomarker strategies.”

The relationship has already seen some staff movement between the two organizations, with Dana-Farber cancer genomics expert Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., taking over the role of senior vice president of global development and medical affairs for oncology at Lilly in 2016.

The latest three-year extension “will provide continued funding for initial testing of several such ideas in the lab and in the clinic, which could eventually inform new treatment avenues for cancer patients,” comments Garraway

Garraway is one of a clutch of hires by Lilly in the last couple of years, mostly in the cancer field, to help cement relationships with academic and clinical centers and step up its discovery of novel, first-in-class drug candidates.

Other additions to the team include former Dana-Farber and New York University immuno-oncologist Leena Gandhi, M.D., Ph.D.—recruited to help Lilly catch its rivals in the I/O category after a late start—as well as Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Maura Dickler, M.D., and Kimberly Blackwell, M.D., previously at Duke University Medical Center—both prominent breast cancer researchers.

Lilly has been a powerhouse in oncology for years, but announced a shake-up of its cancer pipeline last year to raise its emphasis on I/O as well as narrow down its focus on a few priority candidates, including a PD-L1 antibody and PI3K/mTOR dual inhibitor that Lilly is developing for use in combinations.

It also has several new indications in the frame for already-marketed drugs, including Lartruvo (olaratumab), Cyramza (ramucirumab) and Verzenio (abemaciclib), along with experimental drugs in midstage, which include CHK1 inhibitor prexasertib for lung and ovarian cancers.