AstraZeneca has announced two new deals to help it expand in the exploding immuno-oncology market.

The company is entering into a $10 million licensing agreement with Heptares Therapeutics to develop, manufacture and commercialise the A2A receptor antagonist HTL-1071, as well as other similar candidates.

These drugs block A2A receptors, which can be stimulated by tumour cells to prevent T-cells within the immune system proliferating.

Heptares is also eligible to receive $500 million in milestone payments from AstraZeneca as well as tiered royalties on sales.

MedImmune-Mirati deal

Meanwhile, AZ’s biologics arm MedImmune has entered into an exclusive clinical trial collaboration with oncology company Mirati Therapetuics.

The Phase I/II study will evaluate the safety and efficacy of MedImmune’s investigational anti-PDL1 inhibitor MEDI4736 (durvalumab) in combination with mocetinostat, Mirati’s investigational spectrum-selective histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor.

The combination will initially be investigated in non-small cell lung cancer, with the potential to explore additional indications in the future.

Charles Baum, president and chief executive officer of Mirati, says: “There is a growing body of evidence that mocetinostat may enhance the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors such as PD-L1 antibodies.

“Mocetinostat selectively targets specific HDACs that may increase the efficacy of durvalumab in patients with non-small cell lung cancer, as well as other tumour types.”

AstraZeneca, which lags behind other companies such as Merck or Bristol-Myers Squibb in the immuno-oncology market, is pinning much of its future oncology hopes on MEDI4736.

These are the latest in a string of immunotherapy deals over the last few months. Others have included BMS and Kyowa Hakko Kirin, Merck and cCAM, and Sanofi and Regeneron.