Molecular Partners gets AZ support for lung cancer trial

CMO Andreas Harstrick, M.D. (Molecular Partners)

Swiss biotech Molecular Partners has been lifted by an agreement to pair its lead oncology candidate MP0250 with AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso in a lung cancer trial.

AZ’s involvement thus far is simply to supply EGFR inhibitor Tagrisso (osimertinib) at no charge for the study, but Molecular Partners’ shares blipped upwards on the announcement on hopes that its drug could benefit from a positive trial in tandem with AZ’s rapidly growing drug which was well on its way towards blockbuster status last year with sales of $955 million.  

The phase 1b study will involve 40 patients in the U.S. with EGFR mutated, advanced non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who have progressed despite earlier treatment with Tagrisso or another drug regimen.

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It will test the hypothesis that MP0250 will restore sensitivity to Tagrisso in patients who have progressed on the drug. Given ongoing debate about the best order in which to deliver EGFR inhibitors in NSCLC, that could turn out to be a boost to AZ’s ambitions to move its drug into the first-line setting.

Molecular Partners indicated last month it has the financial resources to take the trial to its conclusion, along with its ongoing in-house phase 2 study of MP0250 in combination with Velcade (bortezomib) for relapsed multiple myeloma which is due to read out next year. Of course, if all goes well the collaboration opens up the possibility of working more closely with AZ in future, which would be welcome given the company lost a $1 billion partnership with Roche in 2015 after an R&D reshuffle.

"We are delighted to welcome AZ as collaboration partner for our second phase 2 study of MP0250,” said Andreas Harstrick, M.D., Molecular Partners’ chief medical officer. “This underlines the growing interest in MP0250 and nicely documents the potential value of MP0250 in EGFR-mutated NSCLC,” he added.

MP0250 is the Swiss biotech’s most advanced DARPin candidate for cancer, and acts as a bispecific blocker of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) with potential in a range of solid tumors. It also binds to human serum albumin, which according to Molecular Partners extends its half-life in the blood and could lead to enhanced tumor penetration.

The company’s most advanced project is its Allergan-partnered wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) candidate abicipar, which is due to report phase 3 data in the second half of this year. Allergan has said it intends to start pivotal trials of the drug in diabetic macular edema (DME) around the same time.