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12:00 AM
 | 
Oct 26, 2015
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Collaborating on combos

How Roche is thinking about cancer immunotherapy combinations

As oncologists and drug developers converge on the idea that combination therapies built on a backbone of PD-L1 or PD-1 inhibitors could lead to cures for some cancers, or keep them at bay for years, every large player has set about collecting components for a winning cocktail.

Roche finds the imperative so strong, and the field so fast-moving, that it has decided to breach the walls between its Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) and Genentech Research and Early Development (gRED) divisions to pursue immunotherapy combinations.

Genentech Inc. and Roche have purposefully maintained independent early research groups since the acquisition of the biotech in 2009. gRED and pRED conduct their own work from discovery through Phase II testing, after which projects come under the Roche pharma umbrella.

The rationale for allowing the units to maintain their independence was and is that it would allow a diversity of approaches. There has been little overlap in the targets or pathways they are pursuing, but even when it does happen, the late stage development group has the option to pick the strongest candidate, or move two candidates forward for different subpopulations.

For example, in Alzheimer's disease, separate antibodies against beta amyloid from gRED and pRED were developed up to Phase II but in different subsets of patients. One of the programs is now in Phase III, and the pharma plans to advance the other next year.

While the groups were set up to be independent, they were not set up to be isolated. From the business development perspective, Roche ensured gRED and pRED didn't act at cross-purposes and that opportunities didn't fall through the cracks by establishing single points of contact between the divisions.

In cancer immunotherapy, however, the pace at which Roche's and other company's programs are moving into the clinic, and the speed with which new scientific evidence is being generated, made a siloed approach too risky.

In addition, with the mild toxicity profile of PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors and the huge number of increasingly targeted therapies in industry's pipeline, the possible combinations are practically limitless. On its own, Roche has a preclinical and...

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