GlaxoSmithKline is beefing up its cancer portfolio and has inked a deal with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research to bring a “substantial” number of oncology vaccine candidates into its in-house development.

Financial details of the agreement have not been unveiled, but the move follows a long-standing collaboration between the two organisations for the UK giant's MAGE-A3 antigen-specific cancer immunotherapeutic in non-small cell lung cancer, which it in-licensed from LICR. The new deal concerns a “significant number” of cancer antigens (proteins) expressed on a large number of tumour types, including melanoma, breast, bladder and liver cancers: the theory behind the approach is that these antigens could be combined with an adjuvant and presented to the patient's immune system, in turn triggering an attack against the cells expressing the protein and eventually destroying them.

Scientists are keen to find ways in which a more targeted approach to cancer treatment can be developed, as many current therapies have an all-or-nothing approach that damages normal as well as diseased tissue. Antigen specific cancer immunotherapeutics may avoid harming the normal tissue and may allow for the selection of patients eligible for treatment based on the antigens expressed by the tumour, helping oncologists select patients most likely to respond to therapy, says the firm. GSK presented Phase II data from a clinical trial of MAGE-3 in NSCLC at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, over the weekend, which it says “support further research in the use of these novel compounds as potential new treatment option for cancer.”

Late last year, the UK behemoth unveiled its plan to become one of the biggest companies in oncology, and said it would push four drugs into Phase III development this year. One of the most promising is Tykerb (lapatinib), a once-daily oral therapy for breast cancer, that has been one of the most lauded therapies at this year' ASCO meeting.