Newswise — HOUSTON — The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center announced today it formed a research alliance with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a global leader in pharmaceutical development, to strengthen its efforts in advancing therapies that train the body’s immune system to combat cancer.
The collaboration completes an ambitious plan to partner with leading pharmaceutical companies to more rapidly develop cancer immunotherapies as part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program. 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.
“With this agreement, we’ve now completed our fourth and final major collaboration with large companies who share our commitment to deliver on the promise of immunotherapy, using the resources of our 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.”
“This collaboration brings together MD Anderson’s basic science capabilities with GSK’s drug discovery and development expertise, and our growing immuno-oncology portfolio,” 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. “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.” 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 an entirely new method of treating cancer called immune checkpoint blockade, 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 said.
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.