Incyte said today it will partner with the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania on research into cancer biology and immunotherapy.

Through the collaboration, whose value was not disclosed, Penn investigators will study novel therapeutics being discovered at Incyte, with the goal of better understanding their mechanisms of action and developing clinical rationales for combination therapy and patient selection.

Incyte said it will also partner with Penn to develop a bioinformatics program in clinical immunotherapy intended to advance novel therapeutics.

During the “multiyear” research collaboration, Incyte added, it will provide financial support for these research programs and may conduct additional grant-funded research with Penn investigators in other unspecified innovative areas of cancer immunology.

“This alliance will allow us to mobilize two groups of leading scientists toward the collective goal of advancing the field of immunotherapy,” Incyte CSO Reid Huber, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Incyte is looking to bolster a cancer immunotherapy pipeline now led by epacadostat (INCB024360), an oral inhibitor of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO1) now under study in the Phase III ECHO-301 trial, assessing the candidate in first-line treatment of patients with advanced or metastatic melanoma, in combination with Merck & Co.’s marketed cancer anti-programmed cell death -1 (PD-1) receptor immunotherapy Keytruda® (pembrolizumab).

ECHO-301 was launched in June, with initial data expected to be available in 2018.

On January 9, Incyte and Merck said the epacadostat–Keytruda combination would be advanced this year into additional Phase III trials in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), renal, head and neck, and bladder cancers.

Another four Incyte cancer immunotherapy candidates have advanced Phase I/II dose-escalation studies in unspecified solid tumors. They include INCB01158, a first-in-class, oral arginase inhibitor being co-developed through a licensing agreement announced last month with Calithera Biosciences; INCSHR1210, an anti-PD-1, fully human monoclonal antibody licensed from Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, for which enrollment has been suspended; and the anti-glucocorticoid induced tumor necrosis factor receptor (GITR) agonist INCAGN1876 and the anti-OX40 agonist INCAGN1949, both licensed from Agenus.

Incyte markets two cancer treatments. Jakafi® (ruxolitinib) in the U.S. is a kinase inhibitor indicated for polycythemia vera following inadequate response to or intolerance of hydroxyurea and intermediate or high-risk myelofibrosis. The company also licenses European rights to the leukemia drug Iclusig® (ponatinib) from Ariad Pharmaceuticals, which is being acquired by Takeda Pharmaceutical.

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