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New cancer target draws €259m
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New cancer target draws €259m

11.12.2012 - British pharma GlaxoSmithKline fosters its transatlantic ties. Texas-based MD Anderson will receive €259m for a cancer immune therapy programme.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) secured a promising cancer immune therapy programme by collaborating with University of Texas MD Anderson from Houston (US). The deal, which allots GSK worldwide exclusive rights, was been made public on 7 December. In total, the pharma company could pay more than €259m in upfront and milestone payments, excluding the royalties of possible therapeutic antibody sales.

The programme in question has been established by former MD Anderson professor Yong-Jun Liu who is now working at the Baylor Research Institute in Dallas. Liu found that an activation of the T cell receptor OX40 (CD134) on the surface of dendritic cells improves the chances of an immune attack mediated by these cells: "T cell recognition of a tumour antigen is not enough to activate the T cells against cancer cells, they need a secondary signal to tell them “that antigen you have is a bad thing, you have to attack,'“ Liu said. Hence, he and his team screened for antibodies that could mimic the natural activator OX40L, which enables amplification of Th2 cell differentiation upon binding to its receptor. Right now the candidates have been boiled down to half a dozen. The collaboration with GSK in this late preclinical stage comes as no surprise for Liu: "It is gratifying to see this important step towards translating a basic science discovery into a potential new therapy that can proceed to clinical trial.“

The agreement between academia and economy is the first pact for MD Anderson’s new Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS). This institute is one of several projects of the recently launched ‚Moon Shot Program’ that tries to advance discoveries from basic sciences into the clinic. Dubbed as the „nation’s No. 1 hospital for cancer care“, MD Anderson thinks that „the end of cancer is closer than you think.“ Other cancer types included in the Moon Shots Program are breast and ovarian cancers, leukaemia (AML/MDS as well as CLL), lung cancer, melanoma and prostate cancer.

It is not the first time that a company aims to target OX40. The human MAB oxelumab targets not the receptor but its ligand OX40L. After Phase II trails in allergic asthma patients failed, Roche's US subsidiary Genentech terminated the development of oxelumab (huMAb OX40L) with Danish Genmab in Q2/2011.

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