- Novartis has canceled an option deal on a TIGIT-targeting cancer drug with BeiGene that the two companies signed in 2021, the biotechnology company said Monday. A Phase 3 lung cancer trial of the drug, called ociperlimab, will continue, BeiGene said.
- Novartis paid $300 million in December 2021 for an option to develop the drug. Cancellation of the deal means BeiGene will miss out on another $700 million due if Novartis had exercised its option by the end of 2023, which would have given Novartis rights in North America, Europe, Russia and Japan.
- The decision raises new doubts about the promise of drugs targeting TIGIT, an immune target that researchers hope can improve outcomes when combined with cancer immunotherapies like Merck & Co.’s Keytruda. Roche, Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead and GSK have all sought to develop TIGIT drugs.
As recently as February, Novartis voiced support for ociperlimab, even after a lung cancer trial of a drug Gilead licensed from Arcus produced disappointing results.
“We continue to also pursue the TIGIT through the deal we have with BeiGene, and we have that as an option deal,” CEO Vas Narasimhan said in a conference call with analysts following release of the company’s fourth quarter earnings in February. “We also are assessing what other lines of therapy to take that TIGIT into given the competitive landscape, that's something we're actively evaluating.”
Since then, however, Merck’s TIGIT project, a coformulation with Keytruda, was found to be numerically inferior to an old chemotherapy in a lung cancer trial. Meanwhile, the fate of Roche’s TIGIT drug may hang on survival data, after it failed to slow lung cancer progression when combined with its immunotherapy Tecentriq.
BeiGene continues to recruit patients in the Phase 3 AdvanTIG 302 trial of ociperlimab plus tislelizumab, BeiGene’s Novartis-partnered PD-1 blocking cancer immunotherapy, in newly diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer. The trial, which is expected to complete in 2025, is enrolling patients whose tumors express high-levels of a protein that make them sensitive to PD1-blocking treatments.
The company added that, because of the “changing treatment paradigm,” it will cancel a second Phase 3 trial that would have compared ociperlimab and tislelizumab to AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi following chemoradiotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer.