Novartis is testing three of its lung cancer therapies, notably its recently-approved Zykadia, in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb's closely-watched PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo.

Novartis will conduct Phase I/II trials of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), one of which will evaluate the combination of Opdivo (nivolumab) with Zykadia (ceritinib) for those with anaplastic lymphoma kinase-positive (ALK+) metastatic NSCLC who have progressed on or are intolerant to Pfizer’s Xalkori (crizotinib).

A second study will investigate Opdivo with INC280, an investigational inhibitor of c-MET receptor tyrosine kinase, and separately with EGF816, a  third-generation EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor that is active against T790 mutations.

Alessandro Riva, head of Novartis Oncology Development and Medical Affairs, noted that “preclinical data suggests that combining molecularly targeted agents with immunotherapies such as nivolumab may have synergistic effects and lead to better outcomes for patients”.

Novartis has advanced its efforts in immunotherapy since it acquired CoStim Pharmaceuticals in February, adding late discovery stage programmes “focused on key oncogenic targets, including PD-1”. The Basel-headquartered group is also investigating the potential of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell technologies in the treatment of various liquid and solid tumours through its alliance with the University of Pennsylvania.