Novartis digs deeper into cancer with up to $750 million Aduro deal

Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:55pm EDT
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(Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis NOVN.VX is digging deeper into cancer immunotherapy, one of the hottest areas of drug research, through a tie-up with Aduro Biotech (ADRO.O: Quote) worth up to $750 million.

The move comes as the privately owned California-based biotech group prepares for a $86 million initial public offering (IPO), details of which were announced earlier this month.

Novartis will make an upfront payment of $200 million and Aduro could be eligible for a further $500 million if drug projects pan out.

In addition, Novartis is making an initial equity investment in Aduro of $25 million, with a commitment for another $25 million at a future date, the two companies said on Monday.

The move gives Novartis access to Aduro's experimental STING (Stimulator of Interferon Genes) technology, which is a next-generation method to harness the body's immune system to combat cancer.

In a further sign of its commitment to cancer immunotherapy, Novartis also launched an immuno-oncology research group led by Glenn Dranoff, a leading cancer vaccine expert from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The Basel-based group is already working on a number of immunotherapies to fight cancer, including chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CART), where its CTL019 product is in mid-stage Phase II clinical trials and is viewed as a potential market leader.

Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, said the new technologies could be used both on their own and in combination with other medicines.

"Current approaches with checkpoint inhibitors and T-cell modulation are potent but only in select tumor types. STING agonists have the potential to fully activate the immune system to attack a broader range of tumors," Fishman said.   Continued...