AstraZeneca inks deal with Advaxis for immunotherapy-vaccine combo trial

AstraZeneca's ($AZN) MedImmune has joined up with immunotherapy maker Advaxis ($ADXS) to evaluate the Big Pharma's antibody MEDI4736 in conjunction with the Princeton, NJ-based biotech's lead cancer vaccine in patients with HPV-related cancers.

Earlier this year, Advaxis came out with promising midstage survival data for its cancer vax ADXS-HPV, showing that 22% of 109 women with recurrent cervical cancer were long-term survivors, making it past the 18-month milestone in a single-arm study.

"We believe there could be an important clinical benefit from the combination of MEDI4736 with Advaxis's antigen-specific cancer vaccine," Dr. Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of MedImmune, said in a statement.

The Phase I/II study will look at how a combo therapy of MEDI4736 alongside Advaxis' ADXS-HPV fares in patients with HPV-associated cervical cancer and squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Both MEDI4736 and ADXS-HPV are cancer immunotherapies, an emerging class of treatments designed to harness the body's own immune system to help fight cancer. MEDI4736 is designed to counter the tumor's immune-evading tactics by blocking a signal that helps tumors avoid detection, while ADXS-HPV bolsters the fighting power of immune cells to combat the tumor.

Though the cancer vaccine space has had its share of challenges, these vaccines are likely to make good partners for companies developing immunotherapies. For example, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) is testing Amgen's ($AMGN) T-Vec alongside Yervoy in metastatic melanoma patients. Merck ($MRK), too, is set to begin testing the cancer-fighting T-Vec with its PD-1 candidate, a checkpoint inhibitor designed to take off the immune system's brakes.

Aduro, which just snagged a breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA, is also working on a combo cancer therapy. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) entered into a pact with Aduro to test CRS-207 and GVAX, two immunotherapies designed to battle pancreatic cancer in tandem.

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