Industry collaborations boost the immune system’s cancer-fighting abilities
MD Anderson’s expertise in cancer immunotherapy attracted the interest of four major pharmaceutical companies, which signed three-year collaborative agreements in early 2014 to develop new ways for the immune system to destroy tumors.
The agreements with the institution’s immunotherapy platform provide for each company to establish a joint research committee with MD Anderson experts that will guide scientific and clinical research collaborations.
“These partnerships provide outstanding opportunities to build on the early successes of immunotherapy and push ahead with this approach and save more lives,” says James Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology and executive director of the platform, which encompasses the infrastructure, technology and expertise needed to advance immunotherapy.
Projects can include new drugs to stimulate the immune system or block the off switches that hinder immune attack on tumors, biomarkers to guide treatment, preclinical analysis of drugs and targets and combination therapies.
MD Anderson’s partnerships include: Pfizer, through its Rinat biotech unit; Johnson & Johnson Innovation, LLC, and its affiliate Janssen Biotech Inc.; MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca; and GlaxoSmithKline.
Allison, the father of immune checkpoint blockade, an approach that treats the immune system rather than tumors directly, was recruited to MD Anderson in late 2012. The immunotherapy platform under Allison’s leadership has enhanced and increased the institution’s capabilities in the field.
“Our new collaborations with pharmaceutical and biotech companies through our immunotherapy platform are different from traditional agreements because they allowboth parties to work on any project they deem appropriate without additional budgets,” explains Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., who negotiated the agreements.
“We provide our pharma and biotech collaborators access to state-of-the-art facilities, novel research protocols for clinical trials open to our large and diverse patient population, and an opportunity to work with leaders in immunotherapy,” says Prat, MD Anderson’s vice president of Strategic Industry Ventures.
In return, MD Anderson gains access to the drug development expertise of highly accomplished pharmaceutical companies and their pipelines of investigational drugs.
Ferran Prat, MD Anderson’s vice president of Strategic Industry Ventures, has negotiated a number of agreements between the institution and major pharmaceutical companies to further develop cancer immunotherapy, which is showing great promise for patients.
Allison’s research on T cell biology led to an entirely new method of treating cancer by blocking receptors on the surfaces of T cells — the attack dogs of the adaptive immune system — that shut down immune response. The effect is to free the T cells to find and destroy tumor cells.This approach, first demonstrated in the drug ipilimumab (Yervoy), which was developed from Allison’s discoveries, has grown to include additional drugs that target other immune checkpoints and is considered the most promising area of cancer research.
In the meantime, about 22% of patients with metastatic or inoperable melanoma treated with ipilimumab develop long-lasting remissions for 10 years and longer, results that were previously unheard of in melanoma patients.