CAMBRIDGE, Mass. & LONDON—The human microbiome is a current darling of researchers, with its potential attracting top talent and top dollars to explore its promise. While “microbiome mania” has permeated popular culture, with unproven guarantees assuring the cure for everything from bipolar disorder to rheumatoid arthritis to migraines, rigorous research is underway to understand and advance the mechanistic underpinnings that will allow microbiome modification to help cure disease.
Seres Therapeutics is a clinical biopharmaceutical company using a proprietary platform that identifies healthy versus dysbiotic microbiomes and the characteristics of each, leading to the development of new drugs to treat diseases in multiple areas of medicine. According to the company’s website, their drug discovery process “interrogates how diverse microorganisms work together to form ‘functional ecological networks’ that perform specific biological functions, and how the diversity of microbes present in the gut can have a significant impact on the healthy function of the human gastrointestinal tract ecosystem.”
Seres recently announced a three-year research collaboration with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (AZ). The collaboration will seek to isolate the ways in which the microbiome might augment the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy protocols, including potential synergy with AstraZeneca compounds.
“We are very pleased to be collaborating with AstraZeneca, a global leader in oncology, to advance the development of potential microbiome-based therapies for cancer. Through the activities under this collaboration and in our SER-401 Phase 1b clinical study in metastatic melanoma, we hope to meaningfully advance our understanding of the potential for microbiome therapeutics to magnify the impact of cancer immunotherapy,” said Eric Shaff, president and CEO of Seres Therapeutics.
The partnership will capitalize on distinct and complementary assets from each entity. Seres will gain access to AZ’s breadth of approved drugs and pipeline candidates, while AZ will benefit from Seres’ capacity to quickly and decisively hone in on the specific microbiome mechanisms that make specific treatments effective. Researchers intend to focus specifically on how the microbiome climate in a cancer patient may augment immunotherapy approaches and serve as a potential predictor for an individual’s response to cancer immunotherapy.
“We are bringing together two dynamic and creative organizations with lots of very talented people generating a huge number of exciting ideas,” remarks Dr. Kevin Horgan, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Seres. “What is most exciting is how we’ve found the sweet spot where both company’s talents and interests are perfectly in tune. We will be able to look at concrete scientific questions about various compounds and their mechanisms, and devise ways to deploy them more effectively.”
The partnership will include further research into Seres’ oral SER-401, a potential therapy that is collected from healthy individuals who have shown a microbiome bacterial profile similar to that found in patients with high response to cancer immunotherapy. Scientists will explore SER-401 in conjunction with different AZ compounds known to treat cancer.
“Our new collaboration with Seres Therapeutics represents an important opportunity to advance our understanding of the relationship between the microbiome and the immune system’s ability to respond to cancer therapy,” Dr. Jean-Charles Soria, senior vice president of the Research & Development Oncology division at AstraZeneca, commented in a press release. “Despite progress in the field of immunotherapy, we are only at the tip of the iceberg. Too many patients are still unable to benefit from existing therapies, so we must continue following the science in pursuit of new and innovative solutions.”
AstraZeneca will provide Seres $20 million, and reimburse any research-related expenses. Seres will maintain rights to promising candidates, while AZ will have the right to negotiate for any resulting key inventions. Conveniently enough, Horgan joined Seres after a successful stint at AZ focusing on inflammation, oncology and immunotherapy. As a gastroenterologist and immunologist, the companies see him as the ideal person to oversee the collaboration and guide it towards its maximum potential, according the company.
“Kevin has the perfect hybrid background for this work. He knows what’s under the hood at both organizations, so he can optimize the partnership, and accelerate our collaboration,” says Shaff. “We are delighted to be working with AZ, and very pleased with the terms of the agreement. The opportunity set in microbiome science is as significant as it’s ever been, and we see great potential in this exciting new space.”