Bristol, Celldex Collaborating on Cancer Immunotherapy Study

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Bristol-Myers Squibb  (BMY) and Celldex Therapeutics (CLDX) are collaborating to conduct a single clinical trial combining their respective experimental cancer immunotherapies, the companies announced Wednesday.

The phase I/II study will combine Bristol's PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab with Celldex's CD27-targeted antibody varlilumab, also known as CDX-1127. Multiple tumor types will be treated, including non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, ovarian, colon and head-and-neck cancer.

Similarly, AstraZeneca (AZN) and Incyte (INCY) will study a combination of their immuno-oncology compounds in multiple tumor types, the companies also announced Wednesday.

The Bristol-Celldex collaboration is somewhat unusual in that it applies only to this single clinical trial. Bristol is paying Celldex $5 million but the cost of the study is split between the two companies. Celldex will run the study, which is expected to start in the fourth quarter. 

Celldex retains full ownership rights to varlilumab but Bristol does have a time-limited option to license the drug, if Celldex chooses to seek a full-time partner. 

In some ways, Bristol and Celldex working together represents a family reunion. Celldex was spun out of Medarex in 2003. In 2009, Bristol acquired Medarex, which originally developed the already-approved skin cancer immunotherapy Yervoy and nivolumab. Under the new collaboration, Bristol has agreed to wave some milestone payments and reduce royalty rights that would have been due from Celldex from old agreements dating back to the Medarex spin out. 

Nivolumab works by removing a cloaking mechanism used by cancer cells to hide from the body's immune system. Bristol intends to file nivolumab for FDA approval as a new treatment for advanced lung cancer before the end of the year. The company is conducting more than 35 trials of nivolumab monotherapy or in combination with other therapies across multiple tumor types. Some new nivolumab clinical data will be unveiled tonight when the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) releases research abstracts ahead of its annual meeting starting on May 31.

Celldex's varlilumab is a monoclonal antibody that targets CD27, a molecule which activates T cells and induces a strong anti-tumor response.  

Celldex shares are up 24% to $15.14 in Wednesday trading.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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