June is recognised globally as Cancer Immunotherapy Month, with the aim of shedding light on the role of immunotherapy in cancer. This type of treatment has revolutionised the field of oncology by extending the survival of cancer patients suffering from some of the deadliest cancers. In connection with Cancer Immunotherapy Month, BioStock contacted Elicera Therapeutics, a biotechnology company active in the field.
Cancer immunotherapy, also called immuno-oncology, is the result of decades of research studying the mechanisms of the immune system in cancer. It has become a ground-breaking approach that has completely changed the cancer treatment landscape. Unlike traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, immunotherapy utilises the body’s immune system to find and destroy cancer cells. The immunotherapeutic drugs can be made from substances found naturally in the body or completely designed in a laboratory and are often combined with other types of cancer treatments to maximise their effect.
Immunotherapy as cancer treatment
Different types of cancer immunotherapy include cell therapy, immunomodulators, cancer vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and oncolytic viruses. They all work in different ways but have in common that they strengthen the immune system in the fight against cancer cells. Namely, cancer cells have ways of escaping the mechanisms of the immune system through, for example, genetic changes that make them less visible to the immune defences, proteins on the surface of the cancer cell that turn off the immune cells, or by changing the environment around them making the immune system less reactive to them.
It is important to note that although immunotherapy has brought significant advancements, it is not suitable or effective for every individual or type of cancer. The decision to start immunotherapy is made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account factors such as cancer type, disease stage and individual patient characteristics.
Elicera recognises Cancer Immunotherapy Month
In June, attention is brought worldwide to the potential of cancer immunotherapy, with the leading cancer research organisation Cancer Research Institute (CRI) at the forefront for the 11th year. In addition to raising awareness about the benefits of immunotherapy for cancer, the goal is also to increase donations to research in the field.
Globally, intensive research in cancer immunotherapy is being conducted, both by academic institutions and privately owned companies with the aim of developing new treatments. One such company, which also recognises June as Cancer Immunotherapy Month, is the Swedish cell- and gene therapy company Elicera Therapeutics. The company has four drug candidates in development: two CAR T-cells (ELC-301 and ELC-401) and two oncolytic viruses (ELC-201 and ELC-100). The company has also developed a commercially available technology platform, iTANK (immunoTherapies Activated with NAP for efficient Killing), which arms CAR T-cells by activating a parallel immune response against cancer.
In order to reach different types of collaborations and license agreements for iTANK, this year Elicera has invested in business development. A major focus for the company this year is also the company’s first clinical study with the CAR T-cell candidate ELC-301, which is armed with iTANK, and is planned to begin in Q3 this year. The company is thus in a very exciting phase. Read more here.
BioStock had the opportunity to speak with Elicera Therapeutics CEO Jamal el-Mosleh, who gave his view on the potential of cancer immunotherapy and an update on what is happening in the company.
What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in the field of cancer immunotherapy in developing new treatments?
– Immunotherapy has very promising potential, but not all patients respond to that type of treatment. Understanding why some patients respond to immunotherapy, but not others, remains one of the major challenges in the field. Another big, but highly related challenge is the complex microenvironment in the tumour, which can inhibit the effect of immunotherapy and also make it difficult to find targets for immunotherapy that do not mean that the treatment also damages healthy cells. But this also exposes some of the great possibilities of immunotherapy – the ability to tailor treatments for each individual patient’s unique tumour profile.
– Another great advantage of immunotherapy is the possibility of combining different types of treatment to achieve synergistic effects, e.g., by working as both the “gas,” thus activating the immune system, and the “brake,” thus removing the tumour’s inhibitory effect on the immune system.
What differentiates Elicera Therapeutics’ candidates from the cancer immunotherapies currently on the market?
– We are developing two different types of therapies in the form of oncolytic viruses and CAR T-cell treatments. It is not new, but we are unique in our method of arming our therapies with immune-stimulating properties via our iTANK platform. Then you can also say that each individual candidate has their own unique profile with particular strengths and opportunities. We have provided them with various types of genetic modifications.
What are your thoughts on the future of cancer immunotherapy and how do you see Elicera contributing?
– The field is constantly developing, and it is happening quickly, although it takes time to develop treatments all the way to market. The best-known targets for cancer immunotherapy today are the patient’s own mutated cancer antigens, also known as neoantigens. There are already methods to identify and use neoantigens in immunotherapy and I believe that in the future we will be able to offer patients even more effectively and comprehensively tailored treatments (and combinations where necessary) based on their unique tumour profile.
– With our approach, we can “tailor” a parallel immune response via iTANK, which activates the immune system against the patient’s own mutated antigens. How far this goes remains to be seen in clinical studies, but we believe that Elicera can contribute to possible combination treatments, if necessary, by offering treatments that “press on the gas” and activate the immune system. iTANK can be used “universally” to arm any CAR T-cell treatment, which means that we potentially have a lot to contribute here. Then, of course, we hope that our candidates will find a place in the standard treatment for the specific cancer indications we are developing them for.
What is happening in Elicera right now, and what are the most important priorities going forward?
– Right now, ahead of the start of our clinical study in the fall, the GMP process is being validated for ELC-301, which is a CAR T-cell therapy developed for the treatment of B-cell lymphoma. In parallel with this, we are working with patient recruitment for the ongoing clinical study in the treatment of neuroendocrine tumours with our oncolytic virus program ELC-100. In addition, we have ongoing GMP production for our other two programs ELC-201 and ELC-401 where we work on the clinical development plans. Other things that we more or less continuously work with are different types of partner activities and securing soft financing, as far as possible.
What do you hope that Elicera has achieved by the end of the year?
– The goals are to have completed recruiting the patients for the dose escalation part of the ongoing ELC-100 study and to have started treatment of patients with B-cell lymphoma in the ELC-301 study. In addition, I aim to be able to inform about our plans for ELC-201 and ELC-401 around the turn of the year, where, as I said, we do not yet have clinical development plans ready and thus cannot comment on the capital requirement to push these programs into the clinic. Because of this, we haven’t made a decision about whether Elicera should run and finance these programs on its own or whether it should be done together with a possible partner who pays for continued development.
– I also hope that by the end of the year, we will have secured our first commercial collaboration agreement for iTANK. However, it is not possible to guarantee the time aspect of this goal. What we see is a very difficult capital market that has “forced” many companies to seek alternative financing solutions, which in turn increases competition for license deals and extends the time it normally takes to secure partnerships. However, we remain optimistic about the iTANK platform and our opportunities.The content of BioStock’s news and analyses is independent but the work of BioStock is to a certain degree financed by life science companies. The above article concerns a company from which BioStock has received financing.