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Innate shares crushed on second big setback for Bristol-Myers partnered lirilumab

Innate Pharma is suffering through its second big setback of the year on its lead cancer drug lirilumab. Back in February the French biotech was forced to concede that lirilumab was no better than a placebo in fighting acute myeloid leukemia. And just before Thanksgiving researchers conceded that the drug combined with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab) also flopped, this time in a study focused on squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Mondher Mahjoubi

That would appear to leave Innate at the end of the development path with nothing to show for it, something that made their investors distinctly unhappy. Their stock $IPH on Euronext dropped more than 40%

Bristol-Myers had inked a $465 million licensing deal — with $35 million for the upfront — to partner with Innate.

Innate, though, hasn’t given up on lirilumab. They plan to show up at ASH in Atlanta in early December to discuss their latest findings from the AML study, and where they see a potential avenue for new research.

Their antibody is directed against what they call inhibitory killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors, or KIRs, found on natural killer cells — a big target in the oncology world. By targeting NK cells and certain T cells, the biotech believes they can kickstart a new approach to killing cancer cells. By changing on dosing, the company suggests, they could find a workable strategy — though convincing others of that could prove to be a task.

“Clearly this is disappointing, but we remain convinced, based on broad preclinical evidence, that NK cells play an important role in cancer immunosurveillance,” noted Innate CEO Mondher Mahjoubi in a statement. “Together with Bristol-Myers Squibb, our partner, we will further examine these data to better understand the results and explore whether other combinations should be investigated.”


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