Source: © freshidea/Fotolia
Source: © freshidea/Fotolia

AbbVie has obtained an exclusive option to license up to three of Turnstone Biologics’ next-generation cancer viral immunotherapies, the companies said today, under a research, option, and license agreement whose value was not disclosed.

AbbVie gained an option for all global development and commercialization rights to Turnstone’s Ad-MG1-MAGEA3  therapy, which is being assessed in two Phase I/II trials for multiple solid tumor indications—one trial as a monotherapy and the other in combination with an approved anti-programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) checkpoint inhibitor. In addition, AbbVie won options to two research-stage candidates to be developed by Turnstone.

Should AbbVie exercise one or more of its options, it expects to pursue this immunotherapeutic technology across several types of solid tumors, the companies said.

Each of the three oncolytic viral immunotherapies applies Turnstone's first-in-class platform, which uses an engineered Maraba virus to harness the patient’s own immune system to attack and kill tumors locally and at metastatic sites throughout the body.

According to Turnstone, the Maraba platform is designed to directly attack cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells unaffected, as well as make the cancer susceptible to the targeted vaccine-induced immune response by changing the tumor microenvironment.

“Turnstone Biologics is the first company to clinically develop a combined oncolytic virus and cancer vaccine, and we are very impressed by their work to date,” Tom Hudson, M.D., VP, oncology discovery and early development at AbbVie, said in a statement. “This unique approach to cancer treatment complements our expanding portfolio of novel therapies in development.”

21 compounds, 39 indications

AbbVie’s website lists a pipeline of 21 cancer compounds under development for 39 different indications, in addition to approved therapies that include Empliciti™ (elotuzumab), codeveloped with Bristol-Myers Squibb and approved as a second-line multiple myeloma treatment; Imbruvica® (ibrutinib) for relapsed/refractory marginal zone lymphoma and chronic graft-versus-host disease; and Venclexta™ (venetoclax), codeveloped with Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and approved in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) with a 17p deletion.

Imbruvica is AbbVie’s second-best selling treatment after multi-indication blockbuster Humira® (adalimumab), generating net revenues of $1.177 billion in the first six months of 2017, up 43.6% from a year ago.

AbbVie has expanded its focus on oncology treatments over the past couple of years, notably by acquiring Stemcentrx last year for up to $9.8 billion and launching research collaborations with The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and with the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

But in April, AbbVie’s oral poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor candidate veliparib failed in two Phase III combination therapy trials in patients with squamous non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). 

“AbbVie's global reach and deep experience in bringing to market medicines that deliver transformational improvements to patients will accelerate the development of Maraba-based therapies for solid tumors,” added Turnstone CEO Sammy Farah, Ph.D.

The deal is subject to clearance under the Hart–Scott–Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.

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