AstraZeneca has formed a research alliance with US-based Seres Therapeutics to explore the use of microbiome in boosting the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy.

Seres Therapeutics is engaged in the development of new biological drugs that could restore the function of a dysbiotic microbiome to treat diseases driven by imbalanced bacterial diversity and function.

Under the three-year exclusive partnership, the companies will work to assess microbiome-based approaches as a predictor for which cancer patients may have the best response to some immunotherapies.

According to preclinical and early clinical evidence, clinical response to checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy is affected by the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiome.

This supports the assumption that alteration of the microbiome may improve outcomes, noted Seres.

“Despite progress in the field of immunotherapy, we are only at the tip of the iceberg. Too many patients are still unable to benefit from existing therapies, so we must continue following the science in pursuit of new and innovative solutions.”

AstraZeneca Research & Development Oncology senior vice-president Jean-Charles Soria said: “Our new collaboration with Seres Therapeutics represents an important opportunity to advance our understanding of the relationship between the microbiome and the immune system’s ability to respond to cancer therapy.

“Despite progress in the field of immunotherapy, we are only at the tip of the iceberg. Too many patients are still unable to benefit from existing therapies, so we must continue following the science in pursuit of new and innovative solutions.”

The alliance will combine Seres’ expertise in microbiome drug discovery and manufacturing with AstraZeneca’s oncology experience to study the potential of microbiome therapy in combination with other pharmaceutical approaches to improve clinical response.

Moreover, the partners plan to study Seres’ investigational microbiome therapeutic SER-401 in combination with AstraZeneca’s oncology candidates.

Seres Therapeutics president and CEO Eric Shaff said: “Through the activities under this collaboration and in our SER-401 Phase 1b clinical study in metastatic melanoma, we hope to meaningfully advance our understanding of the potential for microbiome therapeutics to magnify the impact of cancer immunotherapy.”

As per the terms of the deal, AstraZeneca will pay $20m in three equal instalments over two years to Seres. The first instalment is due at the start of the agreement.

The pharmaceutical giant has also agreed to reimburse Seres for research activity carried out as part the collaboration.

Seres will retain rights to oncology targeted microbiome therapeutic candidates, and AstraZeneca will hold an option to negotiate for these rights as well as other products resulting from the alliance.