Eli Lilly expands its portfolio in immune-oncology therapies. This time, Immunocore‘s lead T cell receptor-based drug, IMCgp100 is tested in combination with Lilly’s kinase inhibitors galunisertib and merestinib. This second collaboration between these two companies aims to increase drug efficacy against melanoma cancer.

Melanomas are rare forms of skin cancer, that have a high potential of spreading, and incidents are rapidly increasing with an annual growth rate of 3,39%.

In 2016, Lilly will fund two distinct Phase Ib/II studies to evaluate the safety and preliminary efficacy of the drug cocktails. Both contain Immunocore’s IMCgp100, its most advanced ImmTAC molecule. ImmTACs are soluble T cell receptors (TCRs), with cancer-specific targeting. They bind to diseased cells and help circulating T Cells to recognize and attack cancerous cells. Currently undergoing Phase IIa for the treatment of late stage melanoma, IMCgp100 is also measuring up to combination-therapies.

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During the first trial, IMCgp100 will be combined with Galunisertib to treat patients with metastatic cutaneous melanomas. Galunisertib is a TGF beta R1 kinase inhibitor, which selectively blocks TGF beta signaling in vitro. TGF beta promotes tumor growth, suppresses the immune system and increases the ability of tumors to spread throughout the body.

The second trial focuses on the potential treatment of uveal melanomas using a combination of IMCgb100 and Merestinib. The later is Lilly’s multi-kinase inhibitor dedicated to block tumor growth increasing signaling pathways.

These are not Lilly’s only investments in the hot field of combined immunotherapies. Besides its first deal with Immunocore last year, Lilly joined forces with AstraZeneca’s subsidiary MedImmune, combining Immunocore’s IMCgp100 with investigational checkpoint inhibitors against skin cancer. Lilly seems to understand the strategic value of combination therapies, as its senior vice president of Oncology commented, it’s the “key to the future of cancer care”.

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