Ono pumps cash into U.K. immuno-oncology R&D effort

CRUK Building
The collaboration could add a series of antibodies and small molecules to Ono’s pipeline. (Cmglee/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ono Pharmaceutical has formed an immuno-oncology pact with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and LifeArc. The deal gives Ono the chance to license antibodies and small molecules advanced by its partners.

U.K.-based nonprofits CRUK and LifeArc began working together to identify and validate new cancer targets in 2017. The new deal builds on that collaboration by injecting cash from Ono to fund work from the identification of new targets through to the discovery of drugs against them. Ono made a “multimillion-pound” investment to move the collaboration forward.

In return for the outlay, Ono has secured the chance to license the fruits of the research. Japan’s Ono will make an upfront payment to license a drug and commit to milestone and royalty payments. Beyond that, Ono will handle clinical development and commercialization.


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The collaboration could add a series of antibodies and small molecules to Ono’s pipeline. LifeArc, a specialist in antibody engineering, will handle the screening and development of large molecules. And CRUK will work on small molecules at its drug discovery laboratories in Cambridge and London. CRUK is providing targets from its immuno-oncology research portfolio.

Ono has a track record of identifying and licensing successful cancer drugs—it picked up Japanese rights to Opdivo in 2005, four years before Bristol-Myers Squibb got involved—but its pipeline is light on assets that it discovered or picked up from outside the industry.

The alliance with CRUK and LifeArc could address that limitation of its pipeline. In doing so, Ono will gain a source of drugs it can outlicense to Western companies in some regions, although it expressed an interest in commercializing the products “throughout the world” in a statement announcing its role in the collaboration.

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