Advaxis and Sellas Life Sciences Group, two companies that have pursued different ways of prompting the body’s immune system to fight cancer, are now hoping that combining their efforts will lead to a more precise treatment.
The agreement between the companies calls for Princeton, NJ-based Advaxis (NASDAQ: ADXS) to license to Sellas its technology for targeting antigens. If the partnership leads to an FDA-approved treatment, Advaxis stands to gain milestone payments from Sellas that could reach $358 million. Advaxis would also receive royalties on net sales.
Advaxis’s proprietary technology bioengineers Listeria bacteria, weakening them so that they don’t cause infection. The changes to the bacteria also prompt the body’s immune system to see tumor cells as bacterial-infected cells, which makes them a target for the immune response, Advaxis says. It’s not a completely novel idea. Berkeley, CA-based Aduro Biotech (NASDAQ: ADRO) also works with bioengineered Listeria. That company is currently in clinical trials evaluating potential treatments for mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. Meanwhile, Advaxis has been testing its approach in human papillomavirus-associated cancers; prostate cancer; and cancers that express the HER2 protein, including osteosarcoma, some breast cancers, esophageal cancer, and gastric cancer.
Sellas, which is headquartered in Hamilton, Bermuda, and also has offices in New York, developed its cancer treatment called galinpepimut-S to target a cancer antigen called WT1. Sellas says that while attempts to reach this antigen with drugs have failed, it can be targeted by the immune system. The company’s experimental treatment has positive Phase 2 clinical trial results in acute myeloid leukemia and malignant pleural mesothelioma. It also has early positive clinical data in multiple myeloma.
Advaxis and Sellas say that combining their respective technologies could precisely direct an immune response to the many types of cancer that express the WT1 antigen. Advaxis will handle the preclinical work of the collaboration. Sellas will take over once the experimental immunotherapy enters clinical trials. If the partnership successfully brings a new immunotherapy to market, Sellas will handle commercialization.
Public domain electron micrograph of a Listeria bacterium in tissue by the CDC.