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Lilly dumps phase 2 cancer drugs that survived previous cull

Eli Lilly

The drugs were among seven oncology programs Eli Lilly prioritized in summer 2017. (Eli Lilly)

A pair of Eli Lilly’s cancer prospects that made it through a pipeline cull in 2017 weren’t so lucky come 2019. The Big Pharma revealed in its first-quarter earnings presentation that it is dumping a PI3K/mTOR dual inhibitor it was developing for use in combinations and prexasertib, the CHK1 inhibitor it picked up from Array BioPharma. 

Both the PI3K/mTOR drug, known as LY3023414, and prexasertib (LY2606368) were in phase 2 studies. The former was in a combination trial with Astellas and Medivation’s Xtandi (enzalutamide) for metastatic prostate cancer, and the latter in more than a dozen studies testing it alone and in combinations for a variety of solid tumors and blood cancers. 

The drugs were among seven oncology programs Lilly prioritized in summer 2017—a list that included a PD-L1 antibody and the breast cancer med Verzenio (abemaciclib), which was already under FDA review at the time. The rest of the pipeline comprised partnered programs, three of which were already owned by third parties. Lilly sought to offload the remaining seven. 

The company made the cut to focus on candidates like prexasertib that it thought could become the next standard of care. “Lilly will pursue new standard-of-care changing therapies that target tumor dependencies in molecularly enriched populations, build rational combinations that overcome resistance and develop next-generation immunotherapies,” the company said at the time. 

Since then, however, Lilly has been building its cancer pipeline through M&A, adding the late-stage pegilodecakin, a PEGylated form of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10, in its $1.6 billion acquisition of Armo Biosciences. It also regained a phase 1 Aurora kinase A inhibitor dubbed AK-01 in its $110 million buyout of Aurka Pharma, a company set up by TVM Capital Life Science expressly to develop that asset. Lilly had sold AK-01 to TVM in 2016 after a “review of its clinical pipeline priorities.” 

No other programs were removed in the first-quarter cull, which came after a larger cut in the third quarter of 2018 when Lilly dumped a BACE inhibitor that was being tested in Alzheimer’s disease in combination with a second drug, a monoclonal antibody that binds to amyloid deposits in the brain. That quarter also saw the Big Pharma drop a handful of phase 1 assets, including some immunology candidates, a CSF1R antibody that also survived the 2017 cut and another BACE 1 inhibitor for Alzheimer’s.