News Feature | February 19, 2014

Novartis Expands Cancer Immunotherapy Research Program

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Novartis announced it has acquired CoStim Pharmaceuticals Inc., a privately held biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Novartis said the acquisition will broaden its cancer immunotherapy research program. CoStim Pharmaceuticals is focused on recruiting the body’s own immune system to reject immune-blocking signals from cancer cells. CoStim will add novel immune modulating targets and technology to speed up Novartis’ cancer immunotherapy program.

President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research Dr. Mark Fishman said, “Therapy for many types of cancers are expected to increasingly rely upon rational combinations of agents. Immunotherapy agents provide additional arrows in our quiver for such combinations. They complement our extensive portfolio of drugs that hit genetically-defined cancer-causing pathways, and also may be relevant to expansion of CAR therapies.”

The University of Pennsylvania has collaborated with Novartis to develop Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology for treatment of various cancers. The immunotherapy relies on T-cells drawn from the patient’s blood and re-coded to target specific cells. The re-coded T-cells seek out and bind to cells that express proteins present on a patient’s cancerous tumor to destroy them.

Novel investigational CAR therapies include CART-19 which was studied for the treatment of B-cell malignancies such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. Early results from CART-19 clinical trials showed potent antileukemic effects in several patients with advanced CLL.

The company said the treatments have the potential to benefit patients by circumventing cancer’s ability to develop resistance against existing monotherapies. The acquisition of CoStim allows Novartis to add late discovery stage immunotherapy programs guided to targets including PD-1. PD-1, an inhibitory T-cell co-receptor, is one of the frontline targets in current cancer research. Big pharma companies that aim to develop and market PD-1 drugs include Merck, Roche, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

No financial terms of the agreement were disclosed by the companies.