AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly tighten immuno-oncology partnership, adding match-ups

Lilly's Richard Gaynor

AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly are taking their immuno-oncology collaboration a few big steps forward, with Lilly lining up a new series of combination studies matching its cancer therapies with AstraZeneca's big PD-L1 program for durvalumab (MEDI4736).

Earlier this year Lilly ($LLY) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) agreed to combine durvalumab with Cyramza (ramucirumab). And that pact followed Lilly's move to acquire AstraZeneca's BACE inhibitor for Alzheimer's with a $50 million upfront. Now a new lineup will add the following cancer programs for combination studies:

  • Lilly's TGF-beta kinase inhibitor galunisertib.
  • A CXCR4 peptide antagonist.
  • An anti-CSF-1R monoclonal antibody, to be combined with AstraZeneca's anti-CTLA-4 monoclonal antibody tremelimumab.
  • Lilly's abemaciclib (a CDK4/6 inhibitors) will be added to Faslodex, AstraZeneca's marketed selective estrogen receptor down regulator.
  • Both Cyramza (ramucirumab) and necitumumab will be combined with AZD9291, AstraZeneca's EGFR inhibitor.

As in their earlier cancer pact, the two pharma giants are keeping the financial terms secret.

Cancer collaborations are all the rage these days. Merck ($MRK) and many others have been inking deals as fast as possible. And biotechs in the field are following suit, seeking out new partners of their own in the race to develop a new generation of oncology therapies.

The push on these new programs may be delayed, though, by a recent safety scare that forced AstraZeneca to halt a pair of studies for their two most important late-stage assets. The company is testing a combination of AZD9291 and durvalumab, formerly MEDI4736, in two studies involving patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Late last month, AstraZeneca hit the brakes on enrollment in both trials due to an increase in reports of interstitial lung disease, which can lead to dangerous scarring and impaired pulmonary function. The pauses are temporary, the company stressed in an emailed statement, and patients already enrolled in the study will be given new consent forms to ensure they understand the risks before choosing whether keep getting treatment.

"The expansion of Lilly's research partnership with AstraZeneca will explore the far-reaching potential of combining novel targeted therapies," noted Dr. Richard Gaynor, senior vice president of product development and medical affairs for Lilly Oncology, in a statement. "Our respective pipelines afford multiple targeted options to create innovative combinations in immuno-oncology and beyond, that we hope will lead to future cancer treatment options."

- here's the release