Novartis, Aduro Biotech enter $750-million cancer immunotherapy deal

Novartis announced an alliance Monday with Aduro Biotech potentially worth up to $750 million as part of the Swiss drugmaker's increased focus on cancer immunotherapies. The agreement, under which Novartis will make an upfront payment of $200 million to Aduro, is focused on the discovery and development of next-generation cancer immunotherapies targeting the STING pathway.

"STING agonists have the potential to fully activate the immune system to attack a broader range of tumours," remarked Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, adding "we believe this target is among the most exciting in oncology today." According to Novartis, Aduro's small-molecule cyclic dinucleotides (CDNs), including the STING activator compound ADU-S100, have been shown in preclinical models to generate an immune response that specifically attacks tumour cells. "We anticipate many clinical opportunities will be explored with the CDN approach, both directly and in combination with other agents," Fishman said.

As part of the agreement, which covers the joint R&D and marketing of CDN-based therapies in oncology, Novartis has made an initial 2.7-percent equity investment in Aduro for $25 million, with a commitment to invest another $25 million in the future. Moreover, if all development milestones are met, Aduro is eligible to receive additional payments up to $500 million.

The companies noted that Aduro will head commercialisation activities and book sales in the US, with Novartis leading commercialisation and recognising sales in the rest of the world. The drugmakers will share profits in the US, Japan and major European countries, while Novartis will pay Aduro royalties for sales in the rest of the world.

Also on Monday, Novartis announced the launch of a new immuno-oncology research group to be led by Glenn Dranoff, formerly of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Fishman commented that under Dranoff's leadership, "our new immuno-oncology research group will aggressively drive our current programmes to the clinic and explore new directions for both mono and combination therapies." Novartis' chimaeric antigen receptor T-cell programme, CTL019, is currently in Phase II trials, while its checkpoint inhibitors targeting PD1, LAG3 and TIM3 are expected to enter the clinic in mid-2015.

Last year, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Biotech unit entered an agreement with Aduro potentially worth more than $800 million for lung cancer therapies based on the latter's LADD immunotherapy platform.

For related analysis, see ViewPoints: Novartis makes a sizeable bet on new immuno-oncology approach as Aduro secures second Big Pharma deal.

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