Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celldex have teamed up to assess the safety, tolerability and efficacy of a combination of their investigational cancer immunotherapies in a Phase I/II study.

The drugmakers have signed a clinical trial collaboration under which they will evaluate B-MS' investigational PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab and Celldex’s CD27 targeting investigational antibody varlilumab in multiple tumour types.

Preclinical data suggest combining the drugs' different modes of action may enhance anti-tumour immune response compared to either agent alone, the firms said, explaining their move.

Under the terms of deal, B-MS will make a one-off payment of $5 million to Celldex and the parties will share development costs; Celldex is responsible for conducting the study, which is expected to begin in the fourth quarter this year.

The companies have also re-structured an existing agreement between Celldex and Medarex (acquired by B-MS in 2009) related to the former's CD27 programme, and waived certain future milestone payments and reduced future royalty rates to be paid to Medarex.

AZ and Incyte

Elsewhere, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune and Incyte also announced a clinical study collaboration to test their own cancer immunotherapies, again because preclinical evidence suggests a combination of the two would boost the anti-tumour response. 

The Phase I/II oncology study will assess the efficacy and safety of MedImmune’s investigational anti-PD-L1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, MEDI4736, in combination with Incyte’s oral indoleamine dioxygenase-1 (IDO1) inhibitor, INCB24360.

MEDI4736 blocks the signals that help tumours avoid detection by the immune system, countering the tumour’s immune-evading tactics, while INCB24360 enhances the ability of immune cells to combat the tumour.

Under this deal, the firms will collaborate on a non-exclusive basis on the study to evaluate the combination in multiple solid tumours including metastatic melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck and pancreatic cancer. 

The study will be co-funded equally by Incyte and MedImmune and conducted by Incyte.