The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has formed a research alliance with global leader in pharmaceutical development, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to strengthen its efforts in advancing therapies that train the body’s immune system to combat cancer.
The collaboration, announced yesterday by the university, completes an ambitious plan, part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, to partner with leading pharmaceutical companies to more rapidly develop cancer immunotherapies. Through this venture, GSK and MD Anderson will work together to identify new therapeutic approaches, evaluate patient responses in clinical trials and use those insights to develop immunotherapy drugs.
This agreement is the fourth and final major collaboration with large companies who share MD Anderson’s “commitment to deliver on the promise of immunotherapy,” using the resources of their immunotherapy platform, said Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., and vice president of MD Anderson Strategic Industry Ventures. “We’re also committed to help leading start-ups establish a foothold in this exciting field, but collaborating with this select group of highly committed companies will help bring new therapies to patients faster,” he added.
On GSK’s side, this collaboration is seen as a way to bring together MD Anderson’s basic sicence capabilities with the pharmaceutical’s drug discovery and development expertise, and their growing immuno-oncology programs. “The alliance will build on the strengths of both organizations to innovate in translational research, which will enhance drug development programs in this fast-growing area,” said Axel Hoos, M.D., Ph.D., VP Oncology R&D, who leads GSK’s immuno-oncology programs and has previous experience working with MD Anderson in this field. Hoos developed the first immune checkpoint modulatory antibody (anti-CTLA-4) in a previous partnership with MD Anderson’s Jim Allison, Ph.D.
MD Anderson recognized the potential of immune-based therapies by creating one of the platforms that supports its Moon Shoots Program, the institution’s 10-year commitment to more rapidly develop therapies and other interventions to significantly reduce cancer deaths.
“We welcome the opportunity to work closely with GSK to build upon the early successes of immunotherapy by extending this approach to many types of cancer and exploring ways to improve treatment effectiveness,” said Jim Allison, Ph.D., MD Anderson chair of Immunology and executive director of the immunotherapy platform.
Allison’s basic science research on T-cell biology led to immune checkpoint blockade, an entirely new method of treating cancer, which blocks receptors on the surface of T-cells that stop an immune attack. He created an antibody to the checkpoint CTLA-4, which became the first drug of any type approved for use in late-stage melanoma. Additional checkpoints have since been identified and new drugs to treat them are under development.
“Unlike other cancer drugs that treat certain cancer types or specific molecular targets on a tumor, immune checkpoint blockade treats the immune system, freeing it to attack any type of cancer,” Allison explains.
Other immunotherapy platform leaders include co-director Patrick Hwu, M.D., chair of Melanoma Medical Oncology, and scientific director Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology. Hwu is one of the leading tumor immunologists in the country, whose work in the development of novel vaccines and T-cell therapies explores new ways of treating cancer. He and Allison will work closely with GSK scientists to quickly bridge the gap between discoveries in the lab and drugs that will benefit patients.