Purchasing Armo BioSciences and AurKa Pharma expands the company’s cancer candidates.

Eli Lilly is making major moves in the cancer treatment arena. In addition to hiring leading experts in the field, the company plans to make four or five early-stage deals each year to expand its oncology pipeline and most recently made two acquisitions.

Armo BioSciences was purchased by Lilly for $1.6 billion. It specializes in immuno-oncology, and Lilly hopes its lead candidate pegilodecakin, a PEGylated IL-10, will prove effective for the treatment of a number of different cancer types. A Phase 3 clinical trial in pancreatic cancer and earlier-Phase trials in lung and renal cell cancer, melanoma and other solid tumor types are currently underway with pegilodecakin. The drug has been shown to provide results when used as a single treatment administered in combination with chemotherapy and checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

"As we develop our immuno-oncology portfolio, Lilly will pursue medicines that use the body's immune system in new ways to treat cancer," said Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president, global development and medical affairs, Lilly Oncology, "We believe that pegilodecakin has a unique immunologic mechanism of action that could eventually allow physicians to offer new hope for many cancer patients."

AurKa Pharma was purchased by Lilly for $111 million, with the promise of up to $465 million in additional milestone payments. This move was made to reacquire the drug candidate AK-01, an Aurora kinase A inhibitor that was originally developed at Lilly but then divested in 2016 to AurKa’s parent company TVM. Aurora A kinase regulates mitotic progression and provides genomic stability; AK-01 prevents tumor progression by disrupting its activity.

“The acquisition of AurKa Pharma expands our pipeline with a promising oncology compound targeting a distinct cell cycle pathway,” noted Garraway. “The work done by AurKa will allow Lilly to leverage emerging data about cancers in which this molecule might be effective, and determine if it can be beneficial to people living with various forms of cancer.”