GSK follows Genentech in partnering with Immunocore

Companies to develop ImmTACs to treat cancer, viral disease

Lori Lesko
OXFORD, England—Following on the heels of San Francisco,Calif.-based biotech leader Genentech, British pharmaceutical giantGlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) became the second pharma in less than a month to signa joint agreement with Oxford-based Immunocore for access to its biologicaldrugs called ImmTACs, which are targeted toward treating cancer and viraldisease.
 
 
The GSK deal, announced in early July, calls for Immunocoreto receive a total of up to $212 million in preclinical milestone paymentsacross certain targets, according to a company news release. Each product thatreaches the market could net up to $300 million for Immunocore in developmentand commercial milestone payments.
 
 
Immunocore executives have been mum about the specific typesof cancers the current agreement will focus on, but the most advanced target isIMCgp100, shown to be effective for the treatment of melanoma. The candidate iscurrently in Phase I/II clinical trials in both the United Kingdom and theUnited States.
 
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Immunocore will beresponsible for all of the preclinical development and the initial clinicaltrials in patients, while GSK will be responsible for the remaining developmentand commercialization of the products.
Immunocore's creation of a world-leading platform ofbispecific biological drugs—ImmTACs (Immune mobilizing mTCR AgainstCancer)—exploit the power of T cell receptors (TCRs) to recognize intracellularchanges that occur during cancer or viral infection, according to the company.This unique recognition ability of TCRs sets them apart from traditionalantibody-based therapies that can only recognize changes on the surface ofcells, and provides, for the first time, the ability to develop extremelypotent targeted therapies for cancers that are currently poorly served.
 
 
Both of the pharma giants are intrigued by the potential ofImmunocore's TCR technology, which links the receptors with anti-CD3 antibodyfragments to create bispecific immunotherapies designed to hunt down and killcancer cells otherwise invisible to the human immune system. In addition, theTCRs can flag cancer cells that currently have too few peptides on the surfaceneeded for identification, while the antibody fragments marshal killer T cellsfor an attack, Immunocore states.
 
 
"We are delighted to collaborate with GSK, our second majorpartnership signed this year," James Noble, Immunocore's CEO, stated in a newsrelease. "GSK is a leading pharmaceutical company with a proven track record inthe development of biotherapeutics, and this is an important partnership forImmunocore."
 
 
Immunocore has spent the last two years validating targetssuitable for ImmTACs. The company now has over 20 such targets, Noble says.
 
 
"We do not know of any larger deals in the biotech space, assumingthat all of the programs reach the market, triggering all of the milestones,"he tells DDNEWS. "Immunocore startedto promote partnerships as the data came through from the existing trial, withan ImmTAC addressing an antigen known as gp100, relevant to melanoma." 
 
Each of the GSK and Genentech deals relate to an undisclosednumber of targets, "but Immunocore has many left," Noble notes. "It is intendedto strike one more partnership over the next year, and we already are talkingto a number of the largest companies about this third slot."
 
 
In each case, GSK and Genentech have selected unnamedtargets that address multiple cancers, he says. Immunocore will provide theImmTACs, and the partner will choose the first indication in due course. 
 
"It is in the nature of T cell receptors that they generallyaddress multiple cancers," Noble says. "So one ImmTAC might be appropriate forsay, 40 percent of prostate patients and 25 percent of breast cancer patients,while another might be the other way around. In other words, like the antibodyHerceptin, the patients will be assessed to see whether they are positive forthe relevant antigen and then treated or excluded from the treatment."
 
 
Laurent Jespers, vice president and head of innovation forBiopharm R&D at GSK, stated in a news release, "We are very excited aboutthe opportunity to work together with Immunocore to develop ImmTACs. We believeImmTACs offer a tremendous opportunity in treating cancer and in other areaswhere there is a large unmet medical need."



 

Lori Lesko

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