AZ's MedImmune offers up $727M to get its hands on Inovio cancer vaccine

The struggles of cancer vaccines have been well documented, but drugmakers have taken to the silver lining offered up last year by Johan Vansteenkiste of Belgium University Hospitals. While presenting a late-stage flop last October, Vansteenkiste offered up the idea of combining cancer vaccines with checkpoint inhibitors for increased efficacy. Now, AstraZeneca is the latest to strike a cancer vaccines partnership.

Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim

The London-based pharma's MedImmune unit on Monday announced a development deal worth up to $727 million--$27 million upfront--to acquire exclusive rights to Inovio Pharmaceuticals' ($INO) HPV cancer vaccine INO-3112 and to develop additional cancer vaccine candidates.

The deal follows a series of agreements for AstraZeneca ($AZN) as it works to advance its checkpoint inhibitor durvalumab and will see it use INO-3112 in conjunction with its own HPV-driven cancer molecules. For Inovio, the deal "represents an important step in executing our immuno-oncology combination strategy and advancing Inovio's cancer vaccine R&D pipeline with a leading cancer immunotherapy company," CEO J. Joseph Kim said in a statement.

INO-3112, which targets cancers caused by human papillomavirus types 16 and 18, is in Phase I/II trials for cervical and head and neck cancers, targeting tumors by generating killer T-cell responses. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers, according to Inovio.

Monday's announcement is only the latest in a spree of cancer vaccines partnerships as pharma and biotech seek out the benefits of cancer vaccines partnered with other treatments. Last October, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Aduro ($ADRO) signed a partnership potentially worth more than $1 billion to work with the biotech's GVAX on several types of cancer. And in March, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) wagered up to $1 billion to work with Bavarian Nordic's prostate cancer vaccine Prostvac.

The collaborations are just one factor expected to grow the cancer vaccines field at a CAGR of 27% through 2019, a report recently predicted.

- here's the release