AstraZeneca has set up a research deal with Seres Therapeutics, agreeing to pay the biotech $20 million in installment payments for their collaboration on exploring how the gut can influence the efficacy of immuno-oncology drugs like their PD-L1 Imfinzi.
The pharma giant — which hasn’t been doing a lot of early-stage research collaborations like this — is also handing over some research subsidies to cover the cost of the work at the Cambridge, MA-based biotech $MCRB.
Investors liked the sound of that, driving up Seres’ shares — still suffering since a major clinical setback close to 3 years ago — by 25% by the bell. Seres’ new CEO just executed a significant reorganization, laying off the CSO and 30% of the staff.
MedImmune vet Jean-Charles Soria, who now reports to AstraZeneca oncology chief Jose Baselga in the newly revamped R&D organization, says I/O research is still only focused on “the tip of the iceberg.” After the initial wave of 6 PD-1/L1 drugs hit the market, the leaders in the field have been scrambling to find ways to gain a leg up on the competition. And there have been a number of new forays using the microbiome in search of enhanced immune responses to cancer.
In addition to looking for new ways to identify which patients are most likely to respond, coming up with a more compelling patient profile, the partners also plan to explore the potential of combos, possibly using Seres SER-401 along with AstraZeneca’s I/O drugs.
AstraZeneca had been a latecomer to the checkpoint party, hoping that a matchup of Imfinzi with their CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab would provide a way to leapfrog the leaders. That hasn’t worked so far, but AstraZeneca has made important inroads in the market with Imfinza as a monotherapy. That’s what they’re hoping to build on now.
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