October 7, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
MD Anderson Cancer Center, located in Houston, Texas, announced yesterday that together with Seattle-based Theraclone Sciences, Inc., it was launching an immuno-oncology antibody discovery company, OncoResponse.
In addition, OncoResponse closed a Series A financing round worth $9.5 million, co-led by ARCH Venture Partners, Canaan Partners and MD Anderson. Also participating were William Marsh Rice University and Alexandria Real Estate Equities.
The startup will utilize Theraclone’s I-STAR immune screening platform to identify potential therapeutic antibodies against novel targets culled from immuno-oncology patients. This technology screens antibodies produced by the human body in order to identify those that have particular sensitivity and reactivity that might be useful for cancer drugs.
MD Anderson will provide samples from willing patients, as well as clinical data in patients that respond well to therapies. If any of OncoResponse’s products make it to clinical trials, they will be performed at MD Anderson.
“The immune system of patients who have responded exceptionally well to cancer immunotherapies may hold the key within their memory repertoire as to what gives them an edge over other patients with less robust immune responses,” said Clifford Stocks, chief executive officer of Theraclone and interim chief executive officer of OncoResponse in a statement. “It could provide us with a way to increase success rates in treating cancer. I-STAR immune repertoire screening technology has the unique capability to identify rare cancer-fighting antibodies and new targets. We’re extremely excited to have teamed up with MD Anderson experts to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer and their families.”
In April, Theraclone announced that it was using its human memory B-cell interrogation platform, in other words I-STAR, to identify possible therapeutic antibodies against the Ebola virus. That project is part of a consortium formed by Seattle-based BIO Ventures for Global Health, along with a number of Ebola experts. Theraclone received up to $4.4 million in a Series C financing round, including an investment from the Wellcome Trust.
MD Anderson has been active in biotech-related company development recently. On Aug. 26, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center inked a deal with Germany-based Immatics Biotechnologies GmbH to launch Immatics US Inc. This company will develop adoptive cellular therapies (ACT) to treat a variety of cancer.
Immatics US launched with $60 million, of which $40 million came from Immatics Biotechnologies and $19.7 million came from grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
MD Anderson, also in August, formed an alliance with Esperance Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to push development of its lead anti-cancer candidate EP-100 for ovarian cancer. It also penned a deal with Merck & Co. (MRK) to evaluate anti-PD-1 therapy Keytruda in combination with other drugs and cancer treatments.
Immuno-oncology is the hot new area for cancer treatment. At its most basic, it programs the patient’s immune system to attack specific cancer cells. There has also been significant work on so-called checkpoint inhibitors. Cancer cells create molecules that prevent the body’s immune system from working effectively. By stimulating and programming immune cells while simultaneously blocking the tumor cell’s ability to put the brakes on the immune system, immuno-oncology is showing great promise and is the focus of a lot of research.
Companies making headway in this area include AstraZeneca PLC (AZN), MedImmune (AZN), Sanofi (SNY) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (REGN). Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (REGN) and Roche (RHHBY), and Roche (RHHBY), to name just a few.
“The field of immuno-oncology has shown the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for patients with certain types of cancer,” said George Yancopoulos, chief scientific officer of Regeneron and president of Regeneron Laboratories in a July 2015 statement regarding a collaboration with Sanofi. “However, the field is still in its very early days. We believe the approaches most likely to deliver the best results to patients will combine multiple innovative therapies acting on different pathways and targets both in the tumor and the body’s immune response—and will precisely target these medicines to the right patient.”
MD Anderson and Theraclone’s spinoff, OncoResponse, will have headquarters in Houston. It is reportedly hiring five to 10 employees.