MD Anderson Expands “Moon Shots” Immunotherapy Partnership to J&J

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Tuesday announced its second commercial partner, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, as part of its “Moon Shots” program aimed at dramatically improving the survival of cancer patients.

“This is a way to maximize the value of drug pipelines already existing at the company,” says Ferran Prat, MD Anderson’s vice president of strategic industry ventures.

In exchange for “a substantial investment,” Prat says J&J, along with its affiliate Janssen Biotech, can access the hospital’s scientists, labs, research protocols for clinical trials, and large patient base. Prat declined to disclose the exact amount of J&J’s outlay.

Launched two years ago, MD Anderson’s “Moon Shots” program aims to develop treatments that stimulate the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. As part of the program, researchers are evaluating new combination therapies and identifying useful biomarkers for guiding and monitoring treatment, focusing on eight cancers—acute myeloid leukemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, melanoma, lung cancer, prostate cancer, so-called triple-negative breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Earlier this month, the hospital named Pfizer as its first commercial partner in the ambitious effort. The New York-based company’s Rinat biotech unit will work with MD Anderson to spur development of its drugs under investigation. “The companies don’t know how to assess efficacy. The combinations are infinite, with other immunotherapy agents, chemotherapy agents,” Prat says. “We have the tools to help them, to say, ‘Let’s do these experiments.’ ”

MD Anderson says it has invested $40 million to help fund the immunotherapy program, including a $10-million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“This gives us access to the immunotherapy pipeline of the companies,” Prat added. “We can establish a relationship with these companies, one that allows us to do cutting-edge science on all these immunotherapy compounds.”

Pfizer and J&J will each partner with the hospital for a three-year term. Prat says two additional partnerships will be announced within the next two months.

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