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Lilly Buys Precision Cancer Company in $8B Deal

DNA illustration

(Nogas1974, Wikimedia Commons)

7 January 2018. Drug maker Eli Lilly and Company is acquiring a developer of cancer therapies that target specific genetic alterations rather than tumors in the body. The agreement is expected to bring shareholders in Loxo Oncology Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut some $8 billion.

Loxo Oncology is a biopharmaceutical company developing treatments for solid tumor and blood-related cancers that focus on the underlying abnormal variations in genes identified through genetic testing, rather than the tumors themselves. The genetic variances Loxo addresses can be defects in DNA such as mutations, fusions of misplaced genetic pieces, or production of proteins from too many copies of genes called amplification, and overproduction of proteins by genes. Cancer patients first need to be tested to determine if their cancer is a result of the specific genetic condition targeted by the therapy.

The company’s lead product is larotrectinib, brand-named Vitrakvi, which addresses a condition known as neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase, or NTRK, where chromosomes break apart and mismatched genes fuse back together. This fusion results in generation of cancer-causing TRK proteins that encourage solid tumor onset, growth, and development, in various parts of the body. Loxo tested Vitrakvi in 3 clinical trials with 55 adults and children, diagnosed with 17 different types of cancer, but all expressing the same NTRK fusion condition. The results showed a 75 percent response rate, including 22 percent with a complete response. In addition, more than 7 in 10 (73%) continued their responses for at least 6 months, and 4 in 10 (39%) continuing for a year or longer.

FDA approved Vitrakvi in November 2018 after an accelerated review for treating solid-tumor cancers in adults and children expressing NTRK fusion. The cancers must have no counterpart resistance mutation, where the cancer is spreading in the body, or surgical removal of the cancer is not feasible, and the cancer does not respond to other treatments. Among these conditions are rare types of cancer which previously had no approved treatments, including mammary analogue secretory carcinoma, cellular or mixed congenital mesoblastic nephroma, and infantile fibrosarcoma.

Loxo is testing treatments in later-stage clinical trials targeting fusions and mutations in the RET gene associated with lung and thyroid cancers among other conditions. The company also has therapies for other alterations in TRK genes and variations in Bruton’s tyrosine kinase or BTK genes associated with B-cell malignancies such as lymphocytic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma. Loxo’s cancer therapies are expected to supplement Lilly’s pipeline of cancer drugs including immunotherapies and those addressing specific genetic conditions.

Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis is acquiring Loxo Oncology for $235.00 a share in cash, a 68 percent premium over the stock’s closing price on 4 January, totaling about $8 billion. “Loxo Oncology’s portfolio of RET, BTK and TRK inhibitors,” says Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientist in a joint statement, “targeted specifically to patients with mutations or fusions in these genes, in combination with advanced diagnostics that allow us to know exactly which patients may benefit, creates new opportunities to improve the lives of people with advanced cancer.”

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