AstraZeneca has stepped up its oncology efforts by acquiring tissue sample specialist Definiens and signing development pacts with Johnson & Johnson and Pharmacyclics.

First up, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s MedImmune unit is forking out an initial $150 million and additional predetermined milestone payments, to get hold of privately-held Definiens. The latter has “pioneered a world-leading imaging and data analysis technology, known as Tissue Phenomics, which dramatically improves the identification of biomarkers in tumour tissue”, AstraZeneca added.

Definiens was founded in 1994 by Gerd Binnig, the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Physics, and has headquarters in Munich and California. The company will continue to operate its business with third-party customers.

Mene Pangalos, head of innovative medicines and early development, AstraZeneca, said Definiens brings “a distinctive technology that will have application across the organisation as well as supporting our immuno-oncology efforts”. He added that the deal will “reinforce our approach to developing companion diagnostics that help us in selecting the patients who would benefit the most from therapies across our small molecule and biologics portfolios”.

Imbruvica combos

The acquisition comes as AstraZeneca unveiled plans to evaluate its treatments with J&J/Pharmacyclics’ approved blood cancer drug Imbruvica (ibrutiuinb). The first collaboration will evaluate the latter, an oral Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor in combination with AstraZeneca’s investigational anti-PD-L1 immune checkpoint inhibitor MEDI4736.

The second collaboration will focus on haematological cancers and will explore separate combinations of two different AstraZeneca investigational PI3 kinase pathway inhibitors with Imbruvica for the treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphomas.

It has been a busy week already for AstraZeneca which yesterday sealed its previously-announced $2.1 billion purchase of Almirall’s respiratory portfolio and officially launched the GLAZgo Discovery Centre, a partnership with the University of Glasgow which will focus on immunological disease processes.