Mergers & Acquisitions

Lilly boosts immunotherapy pipeline with Armo BioSciences acquisition

The drug company will pay $1.6 billion to gain Armo’s IL-10 program

by Ryan Cross
May 10, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 20


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.


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