In a further sign of growing interest among large drugmakers in an emerging target for cancer immunotherapy drugs, a company in the space is getting an equity investment from one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Trillium Therapeutics said Tuesday that it had received a $25 million equity investment from Pfizer, in exchange for 2.3 million of its shares, sold at $10.88 apiece, as well as a seat on Trillium’s board for Pfizer executive Jeff Settleman. The company is one of several that are developing drugs targeting CD47, an antigen also known as the “don’t eat me” signal, which is widely expressed on normal cells, but appears in especially high concentrations on cancer cells.

Trillium is currently running a Phase I clinical trial of its anti-CD47 recombinant fusion protein, TTI-621, in patients with hematologic and solid tumor cancers, as a monotherapy and in combination with Roche’s Rituxan (rituximab) or Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab).

Shares of Trillium rose 46% on the Nasdaq when markets opened Wednesday and were still up more than 35% in midday trading.

While most of the cancer immunotherapy drugs in development have focused on the immune checkpoints PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA4, those that target CD47 have grown in prominence as well. Targeting the CD47/SIRPa axis works by using a drug to target CD47 on cancerous cells and thus enabling myeloid cells to attack and kill them via their corresponding receptor, SIRPa.

The news of Pfizer’s investment comes less than a week after another large drugmaker, AbbVie, announced it would spend $2 billion in a partnership with Shanghai-based I-Mab, which has a monoclonal antibody targeting CD47, lemzoparlimab, also in development for blood cancers and solid tumors. The first significant deal related to CD47 came in March, when Gilead Sciences spent $4.9 billion to acquire Forty Seven, followed shortly by the announcement of positive Phase Ib data for its lead drug candidate, magrolimab, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s online annual meeting.

Photo: StockFinland, Getty Images

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