Drug Development

AbbVie hustles its unicorn drug Rova-T into the clinic in combo with Bristol’s Opdivo

AbbVie is wasting little time in getting its newly acquired drug Rova-T into the clinic for small cell lung cancer in combination with a checkpoint therapy. And its cancer team is going with the market leader, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and its megablockbuster Opdivo as well as Yervoy.

Gary Gordon, the vice president for oncology at AbbVie, told me at ASCO recently that he was working on an I/O combo pact, part of AbbVie’s ambitious plans to pivot into registration studies that would position the company for a possible near-term approval.

AbbVie will need good results from the Phase I/II work. The company failed to impress analysts at ASCO with the first sliver of data on the drug, which showed that 11 out of 60 (18%) of evaluable patients on rovalpituzumab tesirine experienced tumor shrinkage.

AbbVie paid $5.8 billion in cash for this drug, promising up to $4 billion more in milestones to acquire the little-known biotech unicorn Stemcentryx. And with money like that on the table, expectations are running high.

Rova-T targets cancer stem cells, dropping a cytotoxic on the cells that express delta-like protein 3 (DLL3), a common feature in lung cancer. Opdivo, on the other hand, takes the brakes off an immune system assault on cancer cells, making it an ideal combination drug for a wide range of cancer therapies.

“We believe the combination of these cancer-fighting agents may offer patients a new treatment option in a disease with limited therapies,” said Scott J. Dylla, Ph.D., vice president, research and development, AbbVie. “By combining immune-checkpoint inhibitors that prime the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells with Rova-T’s approach to target cancer stem cells, we hope to build on our goal to develop differentiated treatments with therapeutic benefit that elevate the standard of care for small cell lung cancer patients.”

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