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.