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Eli Lilly and Immunocore in cocktail collaboration against cancer

Andrew Ward, Pharmaceuticals Correspondent Financial Times, June 29, 2015 9:11 am VIEW ORIGINAL

[COMMENT: For a long time pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to enter into clinical trials using drugs from different companies. This appears to be a step in the right direction. If it is a trend… let it move forward quickly. (ARE)]

Eli Lilly of the US is to expand its alliance with Immunocore of the UK in the latest example of pharmaceuticals companies teaming up to develop a new generation of cancer drugs that harness the immune system to destroy tumours.

The pair will collaborate on clinical trials combining some of their experimental cancer drugs in the hope of developing treatments that are more effective than the individual medicines alone.

This reflects a growing belief that combination therapies will hold the key to success in a new class of drugs called immuno-oncology which analysts predict will transform cancer care and generate tens of billions of dollars in sales.

Eli Lilly already has a research and development partnership with privately owned Immunocore and its expansion into more advanced clinical trials highlights the latter’s emergence as one of the hottest prospects in the UK biotech sector.

The latest agreement involves separate trials of two early-stage Eli Lilly drugs — galunisertib and merestinib — with Immunocore’s most advanced medicine, known as IMCgp100, to treat melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

For Eli Lilly, the alliance will add to similar combination trials planned with Merck of the US and AstraZeneca of the UK involving other products in its pipeline.

Pharma companies hope that drug cocktails of this kind will provide a competitive edge in the crowded immunotherapy field. The first wave of these medicines — which recruit the body’s disease-fighting T-cells to target cancer — have proved highly effective in some patients but the race is on to find ways of widening their impact.

Immunocore is carrying out its own mid-stage trials of IMCgp100, which uses the company’s ImmTAC technology to recognise and destroy cancer cells while avoiding healthy tissue. Eliot Forster, Immunocore chief executive, said: “We believe the best results for patients are going to come through combination therapies.”

The Oxford-based company also has R&D partnerships with AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche.

Immunocore’s corporate origins were in an Oxford university spinout company called Avidex, which also produced Adaptimmune, another cancer drug developer which last month raised $175.7m in a Nasdaq initial public offering that valued it at $1.2bn. The pair have neighbouring Oxford premises but are separate companies.

Immunocore has so far resisted the lure of the stock market. Mr Forster has said in the past that the company intended to raise further private financing before considering an IPO.