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Talking Cure? For Cancer Immunotherapy, Still Many Rivers to Cross

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bells and whistles to their experimental products. One example is safety switches—methods to disable the cells if they go awry once in the body. Another is extra stimulation to help T cells overcome some of the tricks solid tumors use to suppress immune response. (There are a host of other start-ups, many of which Xconomy has written about, working on improvements to T cells, checkpoint inhibitors, and other kinds of immunotherapy. You can read about some of them here, here, here, and here.)

There’s one other hurdle the T-cell based immunotherapy companies will have to surmount: manufacturing. The companies tell us they’ve learned lessons from Dendreon, whose pioneering cell-based immunotherapy for prostate cancer came to market but failed to catch on—at least not enough to dig the company out from its massive debt load. (Juno CEO Bishop ran Dendreon’s operations.)

But so many things can go wrong making biologically active products. Just ask Genzyme, which was weakened and ultimately acquired less than two years after manufacturing glitches shut down a key Boston-area plant.

One investor, whose exchange-traded fund of 70 biotech companies includes nine clinical-stage immuno-oncology companies, says manufacturing worries him more than side effects. “It’s not a sexy topic, but it’s extremely important,” says Andrew McDonald, who helps manage the BioShares Biotechnology Clinical Trials Fund. “These will be challenging therapies to manufacture in a reproducible fashion.”

Manufacturing isn’t a problem the checkpoint inhibitors face, but those drugs have had no traction in treating blood cancers. It’s a good example how each type of cancer immunotherapy has its own set of challenges and trade-offs. “The impact of the entire swath of immunotherapy strategies leaves a lot on the table,” says Flaherty of Mass General. “I’m an optimist, but there’s a long way to go.”

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One response to “Talking Cure? For Cancer Immunotherapy, Still Many Rivers to Cross”

  1. Dieter Hovekamp says:

    Your article leaves out another type of T-Cell therapies that have been pioneered by the mTCR spin-outs from German Medigene AG and are silently in the focus of all big Pharma now: TCR based therapies.

    Beside Medigene and its UK pioneers Adaptimmune and Immunocore – Eli Lilly and Juno recently bought into other German companies BioNTech and Stage Cell. Kite and Bellicum try to catch up in TCRs as well with new collaborations this spring – also these are all often wrongly assigned as CAR-T play.

    The reason for this stealth can best be seen in this picture from the Immunocore Website (see http://www.immunocore.com/technology/targets ) – its all about new targets!