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MD Anderson, MedImmune Join Forces to Advance Cancer Immunotherapy

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The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, will collaborate through MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program to develop therapies that unleash patients’ immune systems to attack their cancers.

March 13, 2014

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, will collaborate through MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program to develop therapies that unleash patients’ immune systems to attack their cancers.

“Our collaboration with MedImmune, a leader in the field of immunotherapy, will draw on the strengths of both institutions to push ahead for more effective treatments for cancer patients,” said Jim Allison, Ph.D., executive director of the moon shots immunotherapy platform and professor and chair of Immunology at MD Anderson.

MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program is an ambitious effort to dramatically reduce cancer deaths through six moon shots that target eight cancers.  The moon shots are supported by several new research platforms that provide infrastructure, expertise and technology.

The three-year agreement with MedImmune covers translational and clinical research.

MedImmune is conducting clinical trials using a new therapeutic paradigm that targets immune cells to improve their tumor-fighting ability, rather than targeting the tumor cell itself.  Through the collaboration, MD Anderson will evaluate several of MedImmune’s immunotherapy molecules in a clinical setting in order to better understand how these molecules elicit immune response in patients.

It is hoped that data collected from these studies will shed light on treatment-related changes to tumors, with the ultimate aim of identifying optimal combination therapies and developing biomarkers to guide and assess the safety and efficacy of MedImmune’s immunotherapy molecules.

“We are excited to work with MD Anderson in the Moon Shots program, pairing their unique immunotherapy platform with our innovative portfolio of immune-mediated cancer therapies,” said Ed Bradley, M.D., Senior Vice President and Head of MedImmune’s Oncology Innovative Medicines Unit. “Our partnership will provide MedImmune with an invaluable opportunity to evaluate the biological impact of our immune-mediated cancer agents, both as monotherapy and combination therapy.”

“Our partnership with MedImmune will provide us with exciting agents to study in novel pre-surgical clinical trials aimed at identifying early clinical signals and mechanistic insights, which will drive future immunotherapy strategies for the benefit of patients,” said platform Scientific Director Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at MD Anderson.

The agreement is the third of a limited number of immunotherapy collaborations to be reached by MD Anderson with leading-edge industry partners.

“MedImmune has deep expertise in cancer immunotherapy reflected in its powerful drug pipeline,” said Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., MD Anderson vice president of strategic industry ventures. “This agreement opens up new possibilities for MD Anderson and MedImmune.”

“We have a select group of immunotherapy partners and will soon stop accepting new agreements in order to ensure that we can fully deliver for our existing partners,” Prat said.

Allison’s basic science research on T cell biology led to an entirely new method of treating cancer called immune checkpoint blockade, which blocks receptors on the surface of T cells that tumors use to turn off immune attack.

Allison created an antibody to the checkpoint CTLA-4 and worked in its development as the drug ipilimumab (Yervoy®), the first drug of its kind and also the first to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for late-stage melanoma. More than 20 percent of melanoma patients given the drug develop long-lasting remissions for five years and longer.

Since immune checkpoint blockade treats the immune system, rather than the tumor directly, it will have application to other cancer types as well. “The era of immune system therapies for cancer is really just beginning,” Allison said

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