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MD Anderson, AbbVie Partner on Immunotherapies

MD Anderson campus

Aerial photograph of MD Anderson campus in 2011 (

22 January 2016. MD Anderson Cancer Center and pharmaceutical company AbbVie are collaborating on new treatments for cancer than harness the body’s immune system. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the three-year partnership were not disclosed. MD Anderson is part of the University of Texas system in Houston.

The agreement gives AbbVie, in Chicago, access to MD Anderson’s immunotherapy platform to jointly identify new targets, and conduct preclinical studies and clinical trials of new drugs. Current immunotherapies focus on tumors mainly from lung cancer and melanoma, an advanced skin cancer.

James Allison, chair of MD Anderson’s immunology department, says many more immunotherapy targets are possible. “Cancer immunotherapy drugs that remove two types of brakes on immune response are really just the tip of the iceberg for this field,” says Allison in an MD Anderson statement.

AbbVie and MD Anderson will form a committee to oversee the collaboration and decide on joint projects. “With the collaboration agreement in place, we can move quickly to design and implement new studies, clinical trials, and exchanges of reagents and take other actions without having to reach new, separate agreements,” says Padmanee Sharma, an immuno-oncologist at MD Anderson.

AbbVie will provide researchers from its Biotherapeutics Center in California for the project. As noted in a recent TedMed talk, AbbVie Biotherapeutics has a growing interest in immunotherapies for cancer, particularly checkpoint inhibitors. These antibodies highlight cancer cells that would normally hide from an immune response behind molecular checkpoints, making them easier targets.

Allison of MD Anderson pioneered the immune checkpoint blockade technology that harnesses antibodies to block proteins on the surface of T-cells in the immune system from stopping attacks by T-cells on cancer cells.

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