Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pharmacyclics and Janssen are teaming up to test the power of a new potential cancer immunotherapy in treating patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The drugmakers have signed a clinical trials agreement under which they will assess B-MS’ investigational PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) in combination with Imbruvica (ibrutinib), an oral Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor co-developed and co-marketed by Pharmacyclics and Janssen.

The safety, tolerability and preliminary efficacy of the combo will be looked at in a Phase I/II study carried out by Janssen, but further specifics of the deal were not divulged at this time.

According to the firms, each agent has individually shown activity against haematologic malignancies in clinical trials, and preclinical evidence suggests that, when combined, Opdivo and Imbruvica may be offer greater benefits than either drug alone. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb is studying Opdivo in multiple tumour types across more than 35 trials, both as monotherapy or in combination with other therapies. Among these are several potentially registrational trials in non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, head and neck cancer, glioblastoma and NHL.

Imbruvica, the first oncology medicine to receive US ‘breakthrough’ designation, is approved for the treatment of certain patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and with mantle cell lymphoma, and is being studied alone and in combination with other treatments in several blood cancers including CLL, MCL, Waldenström's macroglobulinemia and multiple myeloma.