New Immunotherapy Coalition Launched in US
Five major internationally active drugmakers, including American biotech firms Amgen and Celgene, along with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and non-US players such as Glaxo SmithKline of the UK and Merck of Germany, have teamed up with some smaller companies, US insurer Independence Blue Cross and Bank of America in the new umbrella organization National Immunotherapy Coalition (NIC).
The project spearheaded by Los Angeles oncologist and entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong is called Cancer MoonShot 2020 and according to the partners will be focused on accelerating the potential of combination immunotherapies as the next-generation standard of care in patients with cancer.
The billionaire, who is part owner of the basketball team Los Angeles Lakers, is credited with developing the cancer treatment Abraxane. In 2010 he sold the development company and the rights to the drug to Celgene for $2.9 billion.
NIC promises to enable access to more than 60 “novel and approved agents” followed by “rapid testing” of combination protocols in small-scale clinical trials with as many as 20,000 patients over the next three years. This would be followed by larger-scale Phase 1 to 3 trials by the year 2020.
Multiple Phase 1 and 2 protocol designs addressing as many as 20 tumor types including breast, lung, prostate, ovarian, brain, head and neck, multiple myeloma, sarcoma as well as pancreatic cancer will be carried out in a collaboration between academia, pharma and clinical scientific experts in immunotherapy following the US Food and Drug Administration’s recently published guidance.
“Large pharma and biotech companies are developing dozens of agents to activate the immune system. The problem is that while these drugs are being developed individually in silos by each entity, they need to act together when it comes to activating the immune system. If we follow the current path of drug development, it may take 40 or 50 years before we have worked out the right cocktail combination, and countless lives will have been lost as a result of this insufficiency,” Soon-Shiong said in announcing the project at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference currently in Progress in San Francisco, California.
“The challenge of cancer is far too great for any of us to tackle alone,” Pfizer’s head of research, Mikael Dolsten, said in a statement.
As part of the project, Independence Blue Cross, an affiliate of the national insurer Blue Cross, will become the first US insurance company to cover whole genome transcriptomic tests in patients receiving immunotherapy. Soon-Shiong said negotiations are in progress with other insurers, including the national Blue Cross organization about offering coverage.
Some companies are already testing their developmental drugs in combination with other companies’ products. Merck & Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) of the US, Switzerland’s Roche and UK-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca are regarded as leaders in this field.
The four companies are not part of NIC; however, Soon-Shiong told US media that tests with Merck’s Keytruda and BMS’ Opdivo and Yervoy look at only one aspect of immune therapy. “What we wanted to do is capture all these different molecules in the immunotherapy system.”