MARLBOROUGH, Mass. & MUNICH—Aimed at finding new targets and therapies to enhance its powerful INTASYL platform and strengthen its immuno-oncology portfolio to beat cancer, biotech company Phio Pharmaceuticals has reached a new agreement with Medigene AG to design and develop novel candidates for the use of INTASYL compounds in adoptive cell therapy and to enhance immune cell function.
“The prior agreement with Medigene AG related to a research collaboration between Phio and Medigene, based on Phio's existing targets,” explains Dr. Gerrit Dispersyn, president and CEO of Phio. “This new agreement is a three-way agreement that now includes Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU), a research center—along with Medigene and Phio—building and adding upon the research agreements that Phio and Helmholtz already have in place, thus extending the collaboration beyond Phio’s existing targets.”
Medigene is a “leader in the development of T cell receptor-based therapies for the treatment of cancer, and has expertise in the clinical development of these products as well as insights into targets of interest to modulate and enhance the tumor killing activity of these cells,” Dispersyn says. “The details of the option have not been publicly disclosed. Medigene is not replacing a different company in this role.”
Under the terms of the new agreement, Medigene will contribute expertise regarding clinical development as well as proprietary research material, with an option to an exclusive license for the clinical and/or commercial exploitation of the potential immune cell enhancers against certain fee payments. Financials were not disclosed.
“We are pleased that Medigene will be contributing to our research alliance with the Helmholtz Zentrum München,” Dispersyn says. “The breadth of the INTASYL platform and the compound’s capability to augment the antitumor effectiveness of various cell-based approaches are key differentiators of the platform, and Medigene’s clinical development experience with personalized T cell therapies will be helpful in our efforts to identify potential new targets and therapies that INTASYL can enhance.”
Immunotherapy is rapidly becoming a powerful tool available to physicians and patients to attack cancer with fewer side-effects over traditional standard treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“The capabilities that Medigene will bring to the collaboration will add to the ongoing research efforts we have undertaken with Dr. Elfriede Nößner and her team at the Helmholtz Zentrum München as we remain committed to exploring and identifying novel targets to strengthen our immuno-oncology product candidate portfolio,” he adds.
“I am very excited about this three-party agreement,” Nößner remarks. “Connecting pharma and clinical-stage biotechnology with academic research is an enormous asset to the growing field of immunotherapy. It promises seamless translation of basic science knowledge to patient benefit.”
In addition, Prof. Dolores J. Schendel, CEO and chief scientific officer of Medigene, remarks that “We are delighted to continue to work with Phio Pharmaceuticals and Helmholtz Zentrum München within this new agreement. We look forward to the outcomes of this collaborative research effort and exploring the potential future options.”
Phio R&D activities in the area of cell-based therapeutics “thus far have been focusing on improving cell activity and cell fitness to be used in adoptive cell therapy, including targets involved in checkpoint inhibition and cell differentiation/cell metabolism targets,” Dispersyn reports. “We have not disclosed the targets and areas of indication specific to this agreement at this time, but similarly the targets will include those that can further improve T cell therapies and its applications.”
The resources and skill sets available at HMGU are very complementary to those available at Phio and Medigene, Dispersyn adds.
“By aligning the focus and efforts between the parties we expect to have significant synergies,” Dispersyn says. “Indeed, the resources and expertise both from the public company industry and academic perspective all working together to develop therapeutics to treat patients with cancer, could be of great benefit to the field of immunotherapy.”
Initially, Phio will be working with HMGU “to design, develop and evaluate novel candidates using our INTASYL compounds in combination with research material and know-how provided by Medigene,” he notes. “Whereas we have not publicly disclosed the specific projects under this agreement at this time, the focus will be on the improved adoptive cell therapies and its applications.”
For Phio, the most significant aspect of this agreement is the continued and expanded collaboration with a leading immuno-oncology company like Medigene, according to Dispersyn, who remarks: “It further provides external validation of the company’s INTASYL platform, and provides viable avenues for potential clinical and commercial translation. Our company’s mission is to develop innovative cancer treatments that overcome tumor immunosuppression and weaponize the immune system against cancer without genetic modification.”
“We aim to maximize the value of our self-delivering RNAi technology for immuno-oncology by developing adoptive cell therapy products with increased antitumor effectiveness, and to partner with leading providers,” he continues. “This is where the Medigene/HMGU collaboration fits in—and develops RNAi drugs targeting immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment—the focus of our internal R&D programs. We anticipate that the Medigene/HMGU collaboration will result in an exclusive license agreement with Medigene for one of the novel INTASYL candidates optioned.”