Novartis has broadened its immuno-oncology pipeline with the acquisition of Admune Therapeutics and through licensing agreements with small drug developers Xoma and Palobiofarma.

Palobiofarma, a Spanish biotech company, said separately it entered into a $15 million licensing agreement with the Swiss group.

Novartis said in a statement on Wednesday these transactions add Admune's IL-15 agonist program, Palobiofarma's adenosine receptor and Xoma's TGF-beta inhibition programs to its own immuno-oncology portfolio.

Novartis, the world's biggest drugmaker by revenue, is investing in cancer immunotherapy on optimism this sector will generate tens of billions of dollars in annual sales. Cross-town rival Roche, the biggest cancer-drug maker, is also pursuing therapies that seek to turbocharge the immune system to fight tumors.

"The first wave of immuno-oncology therapies has demonstrated the impact this approach can have in treating certain types of tumors," said Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

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Admune and Xoma are based in Massachusetts and California.

Spain's Palobiofarma said its licensing pact with Novartis will give the Swiss company exclusive global rights to develop, manufacture and market the company's adenosine-based cancer immunotherapies.

The agreement also includes additional payments for reaching short-term clinical objectives, cash for development and marketing of projects and royalty payments linked to sales of Palobiofarma's product, called PBF-509, due to begin Phase 1 clinical trials for non-small cell lung cancer.

PBF-509 is being tested for whether it can help the immune system better identify and fight tumors by using adenosine to block the interaction of so-called A2a receptors.

Palobiofarma said its molecule could be used in combination cancer therapy with other drugs, including anti-PD1 and anti-PD-L1, designed to help switch on the immune system to fight tumors that seek to evade the body's natural defenses.