With Clovis team-up, Bristol-Myers' Opdivo eyes dynamic-duo attack on a trio of cancers

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Clovis Oncology plan to pair two of their oncology drugs in several cancer types, just days after Merck & Co. inked a multibillion-dollar partnership with AstraZeneca to test a similar drug combo.

Bristol-Myers will line up its PD-1 immuno-therapy alongside Clovis’ PARP inhibitor Rubraca in two pivotal late-stage trials, one in ovarian cancer and the other in triple-negative breast cancer. In both cases, the drugs would be used as maintenance therapy, to ward off a cancer recurrence. 

The two companies are also planning a phase 2 trial in prostate cancer. The idea is that the two types of drugs could complement each other as some early-stage studies have suggested.

“We are very enthusiastic about studying Rubraca and Opdivo in combination, and the potential to create new treatment options for patients with multiple tumor types, as well as for patients beyond those with BRCA mutations,” Clovis CEO Patrick J. Mahaffy said in a statement. Rubraca is currently FDA-approved for ovarian cancer associated with BRCA mutations.

RELATED: AstraZeneca, Merck team up on Lynparza combos in collaboration worth up to $8.5B

The BMS-Clovis deal is a clinical collaboration and as such quite different from Merck’s $8.5 billion team-up with AstraZeneca. Merck actually bought an interest in AstraZeneca’s own PARP inhibitor Lynparza for $1.6 billion up front, plus other payments if certain milestones are met. An experimental MEK inhibitor is coming along for that ride, too.

But the Merck-AZ arrangement also follows the checkpoint inhibitor-plus-PARP theory. Merck has some experience in that sort of effort; it teamed up in 2015 with Tesaro to test its PARP drug Zejula along with Keytruda in early-phase trials in breast and ovarian cancer.

Merck’s PD-1 blockbuster Keytruda and AstraZeneca’s PD-L1 Imfinzi will each be paired up with Astra’s PARP inhibitor Lynparza in clinical trials, with other tests planned for the MEK inhibitor selumetinib. The two companies said they’d test the combos in “a range of tumors.”

The PARP inhibitors so far are focused on ovarian cancer, but in testing in breast and prostate cancers, too. AZ has Lynparza in pancreatic cancer testing as well. Tesaro’s competing drug, Zejula, was approved earlier this year, and Pfizer is working on bringing its PARP med, talazoparib, to market, with a breast cancer filing up first.

Clovis' Rubraca won approval in December to treat ovarian cancer patients whose cancers tested positive for BRCA mutations and whose disease had returned after two prior rounds of treatment. Opdivo is approved in multiple types of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer and bladder cancer, but not yet in breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. Teaming up with Rubraca might eventually change that.