Novartis AG Taps Cancer Guru to Head Boston R&D Group That Specializes in Immuno-Oncology

Published: Apr 22, 2015

Novartis AG Taps Cancer Guru to Head Boston R&D Group That Specializes in Immuno-Oncology
April 21, 2015
By Krystle Vermes, Breaking News Staff

Novartis AG , the Switzerland-based biopharmaceutical company, has officially created an immuno-oncology research group at the Massachusetts-headquartered Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.

In March 2015, the company hired Glenn Dranoff to lead the group, according to the Boston Globe. Dranoff, a nationally known cancer vaccine expert, will be working with 50 company researchers from around the globe.

William Sellers, the Cambridge-based global head of oncology research at Novartis, will also work with Dranoff and his group. Novartis is expected to designate as much as one-third of its cancer research to immuno-oncology. This involves teaching the body and its immune system to use its natural defenses against infectious agents. Novartis had no commentary to contribute to this story.

In addition to its work in Massachusetts, the Novartis group is also collaborating with the cancer research lab of Carl June. June’s lab has a technology known as T-cell modulation, which involves modifying patients’ T-cells to recognize cancer cells within the body.

Novartis recently made news when it released new data from Phase III trials examining Gilenya on April 21. The information, presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, showed that the drug could statistically improve the condition of individuals with highly active relapsing multiple sclerosis.

Roche Enters the Immuno-Oncology Ring

Roche, the Switzerland-headquartered biopharmaceutical company, announced on April 20 that it would also be focusing more on immuno-oncology, partnering with India-based Curadev Pharma. The deal, worth $555 million, will allow Roche to develop the small company’s IDO1 and TDO inhibitors.

IDO1 and TDO are enzymes that mediate cancer-induced immune suppression. As a result of the deal, Curadev will receive an upfront payment of $25 million and be eligible to receive up to $530 million in milestone payments.

"We are very excited to be working with the global leader in oncology with their unrivalled expertise in clinical development," said Arjun Surya, chief scientific officer of Curadev. "The collaboration acknowledges our focused research efforts on patient-critical drug targets that have yielded a drug candidate that could make a significant difference in the development of novel treatments for patients suffering from cancer."

Over the past 30 years, research has shown that immuno-oncology can help the body’s immune system recognize and control tumors over an extended period of time. Roche and Novartis are some of the many companies exploring the potential of this form of cancer treatment.

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