Oxford based Immunocore is an emerging UK biotechnology company that should be on your radar if you’re following companies such as Kite Pharmaceuticals and Juno Therapeutics. If it isn’t already you can expect to hear a lot more about them in the forthcoming year as they start clinical trials with the many leading global pharma companies who have already partnered with them.
Dr Namir Hassan, Immunocore
Immunocore is an immuno-oncology company with an innovative approach to targeting T Cell Receptors (TCR) using their proprietary ImmTAC (Immune mobilising monoclonal TCRs against cancer) technology platform.
Namir Hassan, D.Phil (pictured right) is Director of Translational Research and Head of Development at Immunocore. BSB met with him and Chief Business Officer, Eva-Lotta Allan at the company offices located in a science and business park near Oxford.
Immunocore recently raised $320M in Europe’s largest private life sciences funding. (Link to Press Release)
Earlier this year preliminary clinical data for IMCgp100 their first-in-class novel immunotherapy was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Philadelphia by Mark Middleton, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at the University of Oxford.
In the interview, excerpts of which you can read below, Dr Hassan explained why their exciting and innovative approach that targets the T Cell Receptor is different from other companies in the field, what they have learned from the preliminary clinical data, and the potential immTACs may offer in combination with other cancer immunotherapies.
If you’re not a cancer immunologist, this type of science is complex, so the aim of the interview was to put into context the data already in the public domain and gain some insights into the excitement behind ImmTACs and what immunocore are doing. If you don’t understand the potential of TCRs and ImmTACs as immunotherapies, this post is for you!
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The immuno-oncology space continues to get both interesting and also very crowded with over 20 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies now in development. Originally, the excitement began with the University of Pennsylvania’s dramatic announcement regarding the first two advanced CLL patients they successfully treated, leading to a collaboration with Novartis and spurring a new ‘arms race’ development in this niche.
While most of the CAR T cell therapy data since has largely focused on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and to a lesser extent, non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), many have been wondering what was happening on the CLL front? Has hope been abandoned there or will we see a renaissance occur? It is of particular relevance with the Abbvie/Genentech announcement that venetoclax has positive data in CLL patients who have the Del17p mutation and filing is likely here in this subset soon. Therapies such as ibrutinib and idelalisib are already approved in refractory CLL and may also have a future role to play here.
Do we need suicide switches for CAR T cell therapies such as Bellicum and Cellectis are developing or not?
Meanwhile, other hematologic malignancies are also being explored, including multiple myeloma. Why would a CD19 CAR work in a disease long considered to be CD19-negative in advanced, refractory disease?
Dr Carl June, U Penn
What about progress with solid tumours? Many commentators and investors have been highly sceptical of the chances of success here following the advent of positive checkpoint data beyond metastatic melanoma and early CAR data in mesothelin cancers.
To answer these questions and also get a flavour for where things are headed with CAR T cell therapies, we recently interviewed one of the leading experts in this field, Dr Carl June (U Penn).
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At the recent American Association of Immunology (AAI) and American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) meetings in New Orleans, we had the good fortune to interview a number of leading cancer immunologists about their work. Some of these have already been published either here on Biotech Strategy Blog, or on the Novel Targets podcast.
In the meantime, the huge tsunami of data from the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) hit and we have been a bit backlogged! Time to address that and focus on some more thoughtful reflections about where the cancer immunotherapy field is going.
Already, we are seeing another round of new collaborations and deals hit the newswires with AstraZeneca announcing two collaborations, one with Inovio on the INO–3112 HPV cancer vaccine and another with Heptares, where they acquired the exclusive global rights to develop, manufacture and commercialise the adenosine A2A receptor antagonist, HTL–1071. The first involves a cancer vaccine and the second immune escape mechanisms. Not to be outdone, their rivals Clovis also announced a collaboration with Genentech to explore rociletinib (EGFR T790M) with atezoliumab (anti-PD-L1) in EGFR mutation-positive lung cancer.
Cancer vaccines have not, however, been a very successful or fertile area of R&D for Pharmaland to date, with only one such therapy approved by the FDA (sipuleucel-T or Provenge) and literally hundreds of other such compounds consigned to dog drug heaven. This illustrates the sheer enormity of the task we need to undertake in stimulating the body’s immune system to successfully attack the cancer in a sustained and robust way.
Dr Rosenberg, NCI
Despite this setback, there is still notable interest in exploring the innate immune system and finding effective ways to target and stimulate the T cells or T lymphocytes to attack the cancer.
One man who has accomplished an incredible body of work over the last two to three decades is Dr Steven Rosenberg from the NCI’s Surgery Branch (right).
No one who attended any of the cancer conferences where he spoke at over the last year is ever going to forget the dramatic before and after slides of remarkable transformation in his patient case history examples using Tumour Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs) as this example illustrates:
To learn more about Dr Rosenberg’s work and insights, you can sign in or subscribe in the box below to read our latest thought leader interview in the cancer research field.