UPDATE 1-Novartis Works with Bristol-Myers Squibb to Test Lung Cancer Drugs

The gist: Combining existing drugs can sometimes result in new, more effective cancer treatments. As we posted on our Need to Know blog today, lung cancer researchers are testing drug combinations that involve immunotherapies—treatments that boost the immune system to fight cancer. Now, two drug companies have announced that they will be testing combinations of their lung cancer drugs. An immunotherapy drug called Opdivo will be combined with targeted drugs. The combinations will be tested in clinical trials with volunteer patients who have late-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). It is hoped that the combinations will work better than any of the drugs alone.

“Swiss pharma group Novartis AG said on Monday it would work with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co to test the U.S. drugmaker’s immuno-oncology drug Opdivo in combination with three of its own experimental lung cancer drugs.

“The clinical collaboration will help Novartis advance its efforts in the field of immunotherapy, one of the hottest areas in biotech right now, following the acquisition of CoStim Pharmaceuticals Inc this year, the drugmaker said.

“Novartis currently lags rivals such as Roche, Merck , AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers in the race to develop immunotherapies – drugs that fight cancer by harnessing the body’s immune system.

“The two companies will test the combination of three molecularly targeted compounds with Bristol-Myers’ investigational PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) in phase I and II studies, Novartis said, adding it would conduct both studies.

” ‘Preclinical data suggests that combining molecularly targeted agents with immunotherapies such as nivolumab may have synergistic effects and lead to better outcomes for patients,’ Alessandro Riva, global head of Novartis oncology development and medical affairs, said in the statement.”