As a university student I fell in love with three topics: ecology, economics and immunology. Possibly driven by a schoolboy enthusiasm for Frank Herbert’s Dune, I was captivated by interrelated systems, and how small changes in one factor can have knock-on effects that impact the whole landscape.

Today, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) announced that they have forged a record $3.6bn USD deal with Nektar Therapeutics to gain a period of exclusive access to Nektar’s CD122 binding agent NKTR-214. NKTR-214 is designed to stimulate the production of tumour infiltrating lymphocytes, BMS and Nektar hope it will couple nicely with BMS’s current monoclonals Opdivo (nivolumab, a PD-1 inhibitor) and Yervoy (ipilimumab, a CTLA4 inhibitor); each of which act to overcome different avenues by which cancers can hide from the immune system.

Together, Opdivo and Yervoy have already shown strong synergistic effects against tumours, and the addition of NKTR-214 may take their efficacy to a whole new level. Phase 2 results of Opdivo and NKTR-214 have been promising, and further trials of up to 15,000 patients are planned; it’s hoped that data supporting the efficacy of the combination will emerge within the next two years.

As a science, ecology has progressed enormously since 1965 when Dune was published, but this quote remains as true today as it was then:

“The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.” 

[Pardot Kynes, the Ecology of Dune]

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that this is equally true in immunology, and companies like BMS and Nektar are looking to leverage the interrelated nature of the immune system to create the next level of immunotherapies.