Immunocore lands immuno-oncology combination trial deal with Lilly

Immunocore has added another string to its collaboration with Eli Lilly ($LLY). The deal is intended to show whether there is value in combining Immunocore's lead T cell receptor (TCR)-based therapy with galunisertib and merestinib in patients with metastatic cutaneous and uveal melanomas.

Immunocore CEO Eliot Forster

Oxford, United Kingdom-based Immunocore began working with Lilly one year ago when the firms entered into a risk-sharing drug discovery deal. The latest agreement is focused further down the pipeline. Having signed off on the deal, Lilly now has the right to sponsor a pair of Phase Ib/II trials, in which it will assess the effect of Immunocore's IMCgp100 in combination with a couple of its pipeline assets. One trial will look at IMCgp100 and galunisertib in metastatic cutaneous melanoma. And the second will test IMCgp100 with merestinib in metastatic uveal melanoma.

The partners expect the trials to get underway next year. Immunocore is already trialling IMCgp100 in patients with advanced melanoma but--like the rest of the immuno-oncology pack--it sees value in combining therapies. "We believe the best results for patients are going to come through combination therapies," Immunocore CEO Eliot Forster told The Financial Times. This belief led the company to team up with AstraZeneca ($AZN) in April and underpinned its interest in expanding its relationship with Lilly.

As in the AstraZeneca deal, Immunocore is contributing IMCgp100 to its collaboration with Lilly. The TCR is designed to act as bridge between cancer cells and T cells, giving the body's defenses a helping hand in hunting down and attacking the tumor. Lilly wants to pair this capability with a small molecule inhibitor of TGF-beta signalling--galunisertib--that it thinks can suppress tumor growth and boost the immune system. The second trial will combine IMCgp100 with merestinib, a multikinase inhibitor designed to block MET and other pathways thought to play a role in uveal melanoma.

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