Novartis is stepping up its efforts to harness the body's immune system to combat cancer. The company has entered into a major multiyear alliance with Aduro Biotech that is focused on the discovery and development of next generation cancer immunotherapies targeting the STING (Stimulator of Interferon Genes) pathway and launched a new immuno-oncology research group led by renowned cancer vaccine expert Glenn Dranoff, MD.
The addition of STING agonists adds firepower to Novartis' diverse portfolio of immunotherapies that includes chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CART) technology and novel checkpoint inhibitors. Currently the CART program, CTL019, is in phase 2 clinical trials and checkpoint inhibitors targeting PD1, LAG3, and TIM3 are expected to enter the clinic in mid-2015.
STING is a signaling pathway that when activated is known to initiate broad innate and adaptive immune responses in tumors. Aduro's novel small molecule cyclic dinucleotides (CDN's) have proven to generate an immune response in preclinical models that specifically attacks tumor cells.
"Immunotherapy is one of the exciting frontiers in oncology today. Current approaches with checkpoint inhibitors and T-cell modulation are potent but only in select tumor types. STING agonists have the potential to fully activate the immune system to attack a broader range of tumors," said Mark Fishman, President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. "Under Glenn Dranoff's leadership our new immuno-oncology research group will aggressively drive our current programs to the clinic and explore new directions for both mono and combination therapies."
Under the terms of the agreement with Aduro, Novartis will make an upfront payment of $200 million to Aduro and will make an initial equity investment in the company for $25 million, with a commitment for another $25 million equity investment at a future date. Aduro will lead commercialization activities and book sales in the US, with Novartis leading commercialization and recognizing sales in the rest of the world. The companies will share in profits in the US, Japan and major European countries. Novartis will pay Aduro a royalty for sales in the rest of the world.