GlaxoSmithKline teams with Immunocore on next-gen cancer immunotherapies

It took more than a decade for the executive team at Immunocore to achieve their first Big Pharma partnership for their new approach to developing revved up immunotherapies for cancer. But it's taken just a couple of weeks to add their second big pact.

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has agreed to pay the Abingdon, U.K.-based Immunocore $212 million in preclinical milestones for multiple targets, adding up to $300 million in milestones--and double digit royalties--for each new therapy that makes it to the market. GSK is following closely on the heels of Genentech, which signed a similar discovery deal in late June.

Both of the pharma giants are intrigued by the potential of Immunocore's T cell receptor technology, which links the receptors with anti-CD3 antibody fragments to create bispecific immunotherapies designed to hunt down and kill cancer cells otherwise invisible to the human immune system. The T cell receptors can flag cancer cells that currently have too few peptides on the surface needed for identification, while the antibody fragments marshal killer T cells for an attack.

Immunotherapies have been the hot story at ASCO for the past two years running, with new cancer programs for PD-1 at Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) vying for the spotlight with other immune-spurring treatments. Cancer drug developers see them as the next big wave of breakthrough blockbusters, with plans to add them on to other treatments to prolong the lives of patients. In many early-stage cases, investigators say that immunotherapies could be crucial to making cancer a chronic condition that could be held at bay for years. And next-gen technologies like Immunocore's are getting an avid inspection by key players in the industry.

Company officials told FierceBiotech last month that they had been working on this technology for more than a decade, spinning out of Oxford before being forced to sell to MediGene, then spinning back out as Immunocore in 2008. In the new deal, the biotech will be responsible for preclinical and early-stage trial work, with GSK stepping in to complete the most promising programs.

- here's the press release

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