In an effort to expand its immunotherapy pipeline, Eli Lilly & Co. will acquire the Redwood City, Calif.-based immuno-oncology company Armo BioSciences for $1.6 billion in cash.
Armo’s most advanced compound is pegilodecakin, which is being tested in a Phase III clinical trial involving people with pancreatic cancer, a condition resistant to many existing therapies. Armo has tested pegilodecakin in more than a dozen other kinds of cancer in earlier studies as well.
Pegilodecakin is a polyethylene glycol-modified interleukin-10 drug. IL-10 is a natural protein that normally exerts broad anti-inflammatory effects on the body. In fact, mice lacking IL-10 are prone to develop conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. Since the goal of immunotherapy is to restore and supercharge immune cells’ abilities to infiltrate the immunosuppressive environments of tumors, using IL-10 to suppress inflammation seems counterintuitive, especially since other immunotherapy programs are designed to promote inflammation near the tumor site.
Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for cancer, however, and mice without IL-10 develop tumors more easily than mice with a normal supply of the protein. When IL-10 is given to humans as a therapy, it causes activation and proliferation of a class of T cells important for attacking tumors.
Armo is also testing pegilodecakin alongside chemotherapy and other immuno-oncology drugs, including the anti-PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors Opdivo and Keytruda from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck & Co., respectively.