Innate Pharma has received a €14M milestone payment from BMS as their combination therapy targeting two checkpoint inhibitors progresses in the clinic.

Innate Pharma is a French biotech developing therapeutic antibodies to treat cancer. It has a license agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb, regarding its candidate Lirilumab. Now, positive preliminary results in Phase I/II trial testing Lirilumab and BMS’s blockbuster Opdivo (nivolumab) for the treatment of squamous cell cancer of the head and neck (SCCHN) have triggered a €14M ($15M) milestone payment from BMS.

Innate Pharma’s Lirilumab targets killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), while BMS’s Opdivo is an immune checkpoint inhibitor that blocks programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1).

Both are checkpoint inhibitors, drugs that can disrupt the immunosuppressive activity of tumors and enhance the immune response. The treatment under development is the first using a combination of anti-KIR and anti-PD-1 antibodies, which targets both natural killer and T cells.

innate pharma lirilumab

Innate Pharma seems to be doing well so far in the seven clinical trials it is running with lirilumab. In addition, the biotech has a second agreement with big pharma. Its candidate Monalizumab, co-developed with AstraZeneca, is currently being evaluated for five cancer indications and has reached Phase I/II as well.

The biotech seems now to be getting ready for the next step, late-stage clinical trials. Recently, Innate Pharma’s CEO was replaced by Mondher Mahjoubi, former Head of Oncology at AstraZeneca, who has experience leading late-stage projects.

Despite everything seems to be running smoothly for the company, immuno-oncology is a field where it will likely encounter plenty of competition, especially in blood cancer indications. Although Roche’s Tecentriq and MSD’s Keytruda, which target the PD-1 ligand, PD-L1, will be big contenders, BMS’ combination therapy could improve the outcomes. Servier, in France, is also targeting more than one immune checkpoint inhibitor with bispecific drugs. However, it is still in preclinical stage, far behind Innate Pharma.

Regardless of who takes over the market, it looks like the next few years will finally offer new options with better efficacy for patients suffering cancer worldwide.


Images from Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock, Innate Pharma

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