MorphoSys and Immatics ally in immuno-oncology field

Collaboration aims to develop novel antibody-based therapies targeting tumor-associated peptides derived from intracellular proteins

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PLANEGG, Germany—MorphoSys AG and Tübingen, Germany-based Immatics Biotechnologies GmbH have announced a strategic alliance to generate novel antibody-based therapeutics against multiple proprietary cancer antigens recognized by T cells. The collaboration agreement provides MorphoSys with access to several proprietary tumor-associated peptides (TUMAPs) discovered using Immatics’ XPRESIDENT platform, with a goal to develop novel antibody-based therapeutics against these targets in a number of solid and hematological cancers. XPRESIDENT enables access to novel antibody targets associated with proteins present inside cancer cells.
In return, Immatics will be provided with MorphoSys’ Ylanthia antibodies against a number of its TUMAPs, with proprietary development rights. The companies will pay each other milestones based on their respective development progress as well as royalties on marketed products. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
“We are delighted to join forces with Immatics, a world leader in discovering truly novel cancer targets that would be otherwise inaccessible for antibody-based therapies,” said Dr. Marlies Sproll, chief scientific officer of MorphoSys. “This alliance opens up the intracellular target space for us and thus complements the therapeutic approaches we use in other oncology programs. We believe this collaboration will create several unique product opportunities for us based on truly differentiated compounds.”
Tumor cells differ from healthy cells in the expression of tumor-associated proteins. These proteins are degraded inside living cells into shorter fragments, called peptides, which are then shuttled to the cell surface. Specialized receptors on the cell surfaces, so-called major histocompatibility complex (MHC) receptors, display these peptides to the external environment, thereby providing a snapshot of the cell’s interior.
The therapeutic programs now being pursued by Immatics and MorphoSys aim to discover Ylanthia antibodies against these MHC-bound peptide targets in order to kill the tumor cells. Immatics’ XPRESIDENT discovery platform is, according to the company, the only known high-throughput research technology to directly identify, quantify and prioritize these cancer-related peptides.
MorphoSys’ pipeline reportedly is home to more than 100 human antibody drug candidates for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.
Immatics focuses on developing cancer immunotherapeutics. The company’s most advanced product, IMA901, is a combination of TUMAPs designed to treat kidney cancer and is the subject of a Phase 3 clinical trial that is expected to generate final results later this year.
“The alliance with MorphoSys marks an important strategic milestone for Immatics. We are now entering the field of antibody-based therapeutics complementing our existing cancer immunotherapy pipeline,” according to Dr. Harpreet Singh, chief scientific officer of Immatics Biotechnologies. “The combination of MorphoSys’ outstanding capabilities to create antibodies and the unique access to intracellular targets through our XPRESIDENT discovery engine provides both partners the opportunity to jointly deliver the next generation of transforming antibody drugs for cancer patients with high unmet medical need.”
In other recent MorphoSys news, the company in late September published updated safety and preliminary efficacy data on its proprietary drug candidate MOR202 from an ongoing Phase 1/2a study. MOR202 is a fully human HuCAL antibody targeting CD38, a highly expressed and validated target in multiple myeloma. The clinical data are said to confirm the very good overall safety profile previously reported at this year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The update also includes promising first results from the highest dose escalation cohort of 16 mg/kg of MOR202 weekly plus dexamethasone, and from the recently initiated combination arms with the immunomodulatory drugs (ImiDs) pomalidomide and lenalidomide.
“The MOR202 data have matured nicely since we presented the program at this year’s ASCO conference, and we expect an even more comprehensive picture as the trial progresses. First results from the combination cohorts with lenalidomide and pomalidomide confirm the synergistic potential we have demonstrated in preclinical studies using our antibody together with these two IMiDs. This bodes well for the future development of MOR202,” said Dr. Arndt Schottelius, chief development officer of MorphoSys.
MorphoSys earlier in September also provided an update on the clinical development outlook for its proprietary drug pipeline, noting that over the last several years, “MorphoSys has built one of the broadest and most differentiated biopharmaceutical pipelines in the biotechnology sector.” With the first partnered programs approaching the market and the company’s proprietary portfolio gaining momentum, MorphoSys says it intends to commit additional resources to advance its programs through approval-enabling studies and become a commercial organization.
“MorphoSys has successfully transitioned from a technology provider to a drug development organization. With a robust set of proprietary drug candidates, now is the time to scale our investment to ensure that we capture the full value of our portfolio,” according to Dr. Simon Moroney, CEO of MorphoSys AG. “We aspire to become a fully integrated and commercial biopharmaceutical organization with our own products on the market. Our lead cancer compound MOR208, for which we have a comprehensive development plan, will be at the forefront of this process.”
MorphoSys’ proprietary activities are currently focused on three clinical candidates: the hemato-oncology programs MOR208 and MOR202, for which MorphoSys holds worldwide commercial rights, and the prostate cancer program MOR209/ES414, which is being co-developed with Rockville, Md.-based Emergent BioSolutions. MorphoSys is also planning to commence clinical studies of MOR106 and MOR107 in 2016 in inflammatory and fibrotic indications, respectively.
As for Immatics, it also had some late-September news, announcing the results of a pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial with IMA901 in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in combination with sunitinib. The trial did not meet its primary endpoint of showing an overall survival benefit of IMA901 in combination with sunitinib compared with sunitinib alone in the patient population.
Dr. Carsten Reinhardt, chief medical officer of Immatics, noted that “It is disappointing that the Phase 3 trial did not generate the anticipated overall survival benefit. We will continue to review the data to gain a better understanding of these results. The observation that the magnitude of immune responses was significantly below expectations based on the previous results of IMA901, when acting as a single agent, may partly explain that clinical finding and asks for better means of mounting active immune cells against relevant cancer targets. Immatics remains committed to the validity of its discovery platform and technologies, which we believe will open up a range of indications for treatment with cancer immunotherapy. It is our intention to focus our development efforts from now on our novel Adoptive Cellular Therapies through our recently announced major collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center.”

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