Novartis bets $750 million on small molecule immunotherapy

Novartis launched a $750 million collaboration with Aduro Biotech to develop STING agonists, adding new firepower to its portfolio of cancer immunotherapies that includes CAR-T program and checkpoint inhibitors targeting PD1, LAG3, and TIM3.

The STING receptor is generally expressed at high levels in immune cells. Once activated, the STING receptor initiates broad immune responses, inducing the expression of interferons and chemokines.

STING receptor can be activated by a series of unique nucleic acids called cyclic dinucleotides (CDNs)[1], naturally produced by bacteria and immune cells. Aduro has developed CDN derivatives that are significantly more potent than natural CDNs.

Aduro’s lead product candidate targeting STING is ADU-S100. The company plans to initiate a Phase I trial in the second half of 2015. In the preclinical study, intratumoral injection of ADU-S100 had superior anti-tumor activity as compared to HBSS (placebo control) and TLR ligands (positive control).

Here are two photographs of melanoma model lung metastases. Numerous lung metastases (black nodules) are visible in the control group (HBSS), while only a few metastases are visible in the ADU-S100 group.

ADU-S100

Source: Form S-1.

Novartis is the second Big Pharma to form a partnership with Aduro. In 2014, Johnson & Johnson licensed prostate cancer vaccine ADU-741 and lung cancer vaccine ADU-214 for $365 million and $817 million, respectively.

Furthermore, the FDA has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Aduro’s pancreatic cancer vaccine CRS-207. FierceBiotech listed the company as one of 2014’s Fierce 15 biotechnology companies. The company has filed for a $86 million IPO.

[1] Nature. 2011, 478(7370), 515-518.

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