AstraZeneca inks two immuno-oncology deals for novel combination treatments

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Just days after selling divesting Caprelsa in a $300 million deal, AstraZeneca has announced two back-to-back immuno-oncology deals with Mirati Therapeutics and Heptares Therapeutics in a bid to explore novel combination treatments.

AstraZeneca’s MedImmune, on August 5, inked a deal with Mirati Therapeutics, Inc., an oncology company focusing on genetic and epigenetic drivers of cancer for an exclusive clinical trial collaboration. Under the agreement, phase I/II study will evaluate the safety and efficacy of MedImmune’s investigational anti-PDL1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, durvalumab (MEDI4736), in combination with mocetinostat, Mirati’s investigational spectrum-selective histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor.

AstraZeneca revealed that they will first evaluate the novel combination in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and if things are promising there is potential to explore additional indications in the future.

MedImmune’s Durvalumab is designed to counter the tumour’s immune-evading tactics by blocking a signal that helps tumours avoid detection, while mocetinostat selectively inhibits Class I HDAC enzymes, which has the potential to enhance the positive effect of checkpoint inhibitors, such as durvalumab, on tumour immunity.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mirati will conduct and fund the initial Phase I/II clinical trial, which is expected to start in 2016, and MedImmune will supply durvalumab for the trial. The parties have established a Joint Steering Committee to oversee the trial. In the event that the initial clinical trial demonstrates positive results, MedImmune will have an exclusive period of time in which to negotiate a commercial license for the combination in this indication.

The very next day, AstraZeneca announced that it has inked a multimillion dollar licensing agreement with Heptares Therapeutics, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Sosei Group Corporation. Under the deal AstraZeneca will acquire exclusive global rights to develop, manufacture and commercialise the adenosine A2A receptor antagonist, HTL-1071, a small molecule immuno-oncology candidate, and potential additional A2A receptor-blocking compounds.

Further, AstraZeneca will explore the assets across a range of cancers, including in combination with its existing portfolio of immunotherapies.

AstraZeneca notes that tumour cells have developed mechanisms to evade the immune system, including through the production of a natural molecule called adenosine. By stimulating A2A receptors, adenosine stops T-cells within the immune system from proliferating and reduces their ability to destroy cancer cells. Blocking A2A receptors can therefore promote the anti-cancer response of T-cells within in the tumour microenvironment.

Under the terms of the agreement, Heptares will grant AstraZeneca an exclusive license to research, develop, manufacture and commercialise HTL-1071. The companies will also collaborate to discover further A2A receptor-blocking compounds for development in cancer immunotherapy.

Heptares will receive an upfront payment of $10 million and is eligible to receive additional, significant near term milestone payments based on agreed pre-clinical and/or clinical events. Subject to successful completion of development and commercialisation milestones, Heptares is also eligible to receive more than $500 million, as well as up to double-digit tiered royalties on net sales.

AstraZeneca signed another immuno-oncology deal earlier in May with Lilly for clinical trials in solid tumours.