A unit of AstraZeneca Plc has tied up with Juno Therapeutics Inc to develop combination treatments that use the immune system of the body to kill cancer cells.
The move will see AstraZeneca's research and development arm MedImmune and Juno develop a new class of drugs known as immuno-oncology therapies, considered a breakthrough in cancer treatment.
The past year had seen a raft of tie-ups most notably. Eli Lilly and Merck & Co, Pfizer Inc and Germany's Merck KGaA, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co and Japan's Ono Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, among others.
Immuno-oncology drugs help the immune system, recognise and destroy cancer cells.
The new experimental cancer drugs, called CAR-T therapies, which recruit the immune system's powerful T cells, are proving to be effective against tumours. According to commentators, these drugs could soon take the $100 billion global market for drugs that fight cancer by storm.
The partnership would see, MedImmune and Juno test a combination of their drugs as a potential treatment for patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma - a type of lymph node cancer.
MedImmune's late-stage immunotherapy drug, MEDI4736 and one of Juno's CAR-T cell therapy candidates would be used in the trials.
MedImmune and Juno would jointly co-fund an initial Phase Ib study, expected to begin later this year under terms of their non-exclusive collaboration.
Juno's chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell technology inserts a gene for a particular CAR into the T cell, enabling it to recognise cancer cells on the basis of the expression of a specific protein located on the cell surface. When the engineered T cell engages the target protein on the cancer cell, a cell-killing response against the cancer cell is initiated.
''We believe combination strategies such as this will help us better understand the full potential of our engineered T-cell platform in both hematological and solid tumor settings,'' Mark W Frohlich, MD, evp, research and development at Juno, said in a statement.