- AstraZeneca will try its hand at developing radiation-emitting therapies for cancer, partnering with Fusion Pharmaceuticals in a research collaboration that will pair the Ontario, Canada- and Boston-based startup's technology with antibody drugs from the British pharma's portfolio.
- The companies also plan to test combinations of their existing treatments for a range of unspecified tumor types, according to a statement from Fusion Monday. Both AstraZeneca and Fusion will retain full rights to their respective therapies, while sharing equally the development costs for any new compound to result from the partnership.
- AstraZeneca won't pay much to work together with Fusion, agreeing to hand the smaller company $5 million upfront and pledging another $40 million in milestones. Yet the deal will give AstraZeneca an entry point into the radiopharmaceutical field, an area that rival drugmaker Novartis has made a major focus.
Over the course of half a decade, AstraZeneca has built its cancer drug business into one of the pharmaceutical industry's strongest, led by targeted treatments like Tagrisso and Lynparza.
More recently, the company has added new drug types to its portfolio. It licensed a now approved antibody-drug conjugate developed by Daiichi Sankyo in 2019 and followed up with a deal in July for another, similar cancer medicine discovered by the Japanese drugmaker.
The collaboration with Fusion, while small from AstraZeneca's perspective, could give it an opportunity to test the waters for development of another type of cancer drug. Radiopharmaceuticals, Fusion's specialty, combine a radioactive isotope with a tumor-seeking antibody, strung together by a special "linker" molecule.
These linkers are important as they keep the cell-destroying isotope bound to the antibody until the tumor target is reached, limiting the damage to healthy tissue. Earlier radiopharmaceuticals, such as Bayer's prostate cancer treatment Xofigo, don't feature attached antibodies. Other companies, like Eli Lilly, have used radioactive isotopes for diagnostic purposes.
More recently, Novartis has invested heavily in radiopharmaceuticals, spending roughly $6 billion to buy Advanced Accelerator Applications and then Endocyte in separate acquisitions. The first deal gave the Swiss pharma a neuroendocrine cancer drug now approved as Lutathera.
AstraZeneca's far from matching Novartis' investment, but the collaboration with Fusion could be a starting point for the company to explore potential drug pairings.
"Radiopharmaceuticals are a promising area of exploration in oncology, with the potential to deliver radiation therapy selectively to tumors," said Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca's head of research and early oncology development, in a statement.
The companies agreed to jointly discover and develop up to three new treatments using Fusion's linker technology to bind the isotope Actinium-225, which emits alpha radiation, to "certain antibodies" in AstraZeneca's portfolio.
AstraZeneca and Fusion will also develop combination treatments using existing drugs from each company, including Fusion's lead candidate, FPI-1434.
Fusion, which raised $213 million in an initial public offering this July, spun out of Canada's Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization in 2017. As of June 30, the company had $318 million in cash, enough to fund operations until 2024.