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Immunotherapy in the Fast Lane: CRI's Clinical Accelerator Takes Off

January 07, 2014 | Matthew Tontonoz

Scientists increasingly recognize that the breakthrough treatments of tomorrow will be made up of combinations of different drugs that work in complementary fashion. Often, however, these drugs are owned by different companies that may not be inclined to collaborate, and with many different possible combinations, a high level of coordination is required. Over the last several years, CRI has developed a unique strategy to surmount these obstacles and speed up development of new immunotherapies for cancer patients.

Called the Clinical Accelerator, the program has three complementary components: a network of the world’s top researchers who work together to identify promising new treatments, a nonprofit venture capital fund that facilitates access to company-owned drugs and covers the cost of clinical trials, and a team of professionals who design and manage the trials. By leveraging these resources, the Clinical Accelerator is able to identify new potentially life-saving treatments and then foster collaboration among the field’s best scientists and companies to kick start their development. 

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” says Adam Kolom, who helped conceive the program and manages it for CRI. “There is an inherent alignment of interests among patients, researchers, and industry to develop more effective treatments as quickly as possible. Clinical Accelerator simply brings together the best strengths of industry and academia to help speed up this process.”

A key to the program is its unprecedented collaborative model. In exchange for supplying their drugs for trials conducted within CRI’s clinical trials network, biopharma companies benefit from the collective brain trust of CRI scientists, the extensive experience of Ludwig Cancer Research in managing clinical trials, and access to nonprofit capital. Equally important, by securing access to the best drugs from multiple companies, CRI is able to conduct clinical trials of novel combinations that might not otherwise be conducted.  

“It’s a remarkable model,” says Kolom. “Only a nonprofit could play this kind of central coordinating and enabling role, and yet it’s a critical function with so many different parties and with so much scientific and clinical complexity involved.”

The high quality of CRI scientists participating in the program is a strong selling point of the arrangement, says Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., CEO and director of scientific affairs at CRI. “We have put together an A-team of clinician-scientists involved with immunotherapy, and companies recognize the value of that,” she says. 

The model is also designed to become financially self-sustaining over time. By securing terms for return on investment from its biopharma partners as drugs become successful, CRI will be able to reinvest that money into future clinical trials, magnifying and extending the impact of every dollar donated to the program.

The Clinical Accelerator has already yielded impressive results. The program has established formal or informal partnerships with more than 15 biopharmaceutical companies, including Immune Design, AstraZeneca, MedImmune, and CureVac, and given CRI researchers access to a “menu” of more than 25 new drugs.

The Clinical Accelerator aims to invest roughly $8 million to $10 million annually, enough to support 4-6 new clinical trials each year when invested alongside support from industry partners. The first clinical trial conceived and organized under this new model is now accruing patients. It is a phase I study of MEDI4736 (an anti-PD-L1 antibody) and tremelimumab (an anti-CLTA-4 antibody) used as a combination treatment for patients with any of six different types of cancer. Both MEDI4736 and tremelimumab are antibodies designed to “take the brakes off” the immune system, enabling a more aggressive immune response against cancer. Over the next few years, additional clinical trials sponsored by the program will greatly expand treatment options for patients, with more than 20 different tumor types already represented in the program’s clinical pipeline.

To learn more about the Clinical Accelerator, visit www.cancerresearch.org/accelerator.

 

 

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