International pharmaceutical company AbbVie and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s immunotherapy platform will partner up in a three-year agreement to explore new pathways to harvest the immune system’s full potential in the fight against cancer. The new alliance provides a framework for both companies to choose and set up preclinical and clinical trials and studies evaluating these experimental ideas in the progressive new area of immuno-oncology.
“AbbVie has both identified new molecules and developed novel technology to hit key targets, with the objective of designing new immunotherapy for the benefit of patients,” immunotherapy platform Scientific Director Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., also a professor of genitourinary medical oncology and immunology at MD Anderson, said in a news release.
AbbVie’s center of innovation in the San Francisco Bay Area will be responsible for developing future projects that may stem from this collaboration. AbbVie and MD Anderson will assign two scientists each for a partnership scientific committee, which will decide on which projects to pursue. “With the collaboration agreement in place, we can move quickly to design and implement new studies, clinical trials, and exchanges of re-agents, and take other actions without having to reach new, separate agreements,” Sharma explained.
Michael Severino, M.D., AbbVie’s CSO and executive vice president of research and development, said, “Pairing MD Anderson’s cutting-edge preclinical, translational and clinical capabilities with AbbVie’s innovative discovery and development programs accelerates our ability to deliver new therapies that can help transform the lives of people affected by cancer.
“AbbVie is pleased to partner with MD Anderson’s world-class experts so that together we can advance the science of cancer immunotherapy for the benefit of patients around the world,” Severino said.
AbbVie’s research efforts in immunotherapy leverage the company’s strengths in biology, protein engineering and chemistry. This agreement is the first of several to come in a new wave of such collaborations with MD Anderson’s immunotherapy platform, said Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., vice president of Strategic Ventures.
Existing immunotherapy drugs are already capable of preventing tumors and considerably extend survival rates in groups of patients with advanced melanoma or lung cancer, and are currently being tested for other types of cancer. Jim Allison, Ph.D., executive director of the immunotherapy platform and chairman of immunology at MD Anderson, notes there are more potential targets for immunotherapeutic drugs.
“Cancer immunotherapy drugs that remove two types of brakes on immune response are really just the tip of the iceberg for this field,” Allison stated. “Our agreements with companies such as AbbVie allow academic and industry scientists to work efficiently to move the science forward and extend this approach to more patients.”
MD Anderson’s immunotherapy platform combines expertise and advanced technology for preclinical modeling, clinical trials and immune monitoring before, during, and after treatment to better understand drug mechanisms and identify biomarkers to guide treatment.
Platform leader Allison developed a breakthrough immunotherapy approach called immune checkpoint blockade, which uses antibodies to block proteins on the surface of T cells that otherwise shut down T cells’ attack on tumors. The platform works in collaboration with a top-quality group of pharmaceutical companies, and is also included in MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, a trans-disciplinary initiative to develop new treatments and prevention programs stemming from scientific discoveries.