Immune Design, NY Non-Profits Team Up to Boost Cancer Drugs

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle-based Immune Design took a big step forward as a company in 2010 when it struck a deal to let AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit test out its proprietary vaccine boosters, or adjuvants. Now, it’s got a bigger goal in mind: using a broad collaboration with two big non-profit organizations to break into the hot field of cancer immunotherapy.

Immune Design has formed a partnership with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Cancer Research Institute, two New York-based non-profits that support cancer research and sponsor and conduct clinical trials. The partnership doesn’t include any particular financial consideration for Immune Design. Rather, it’s about access, and setting up the company’s long-term business plan.

Specifically, should Immune Design show that two of its experimental drugs—a vaccine (LV305) designed to stimulate an immune system response, and a synthetic chemical compound known as an adjuvant (glucopyranosyl lipid A) used to boost the vaccine’s effectiveness—are both safely tolerated, and have a meaningful clinical effect in humans, investigators running clinical trials at Ludwig and CRI could potentially add them into studies testing combinations of cancer immunotherapies.

Immune Design CEO Carlos Paya

“These are things as a small private company we would not have been able to afford,” says Immune Design CEO Carlos Paya. “[It] allows companies like ours that don’t have all the tools together to have our tools being tested in combination with other companies’ tools.”

Immune Design hopes to ultimately show through these trials that a cancer immunotherapy drug works better with the help of its vaccine and adjuvant. The Ludwig institute and CRI, for example, signed a deal with MedImmune in October allowing the organizations to use three of its cancer antibodies—among them tremelimumab, which belongs to a class of drugs designed to release the braking mechanism in the immune system called CTLA-4—in clinical trials of cancer immunotherapy combinations.

Trial investigators could, for example, ultimately decide to combine something such as tremelimumab with Immune Design’s boosted vaccines to create a more potent treatment.

“If you combine a big engine of making an immune response with these [CTLA-4 blocking antibodies], the obvious logic would be that you have synergy or additive value,” Paya says.

That’s a lot of if’s and uncertainty to get through. But the partnership does get Immune Design’s foot in the door, right as … Next Page »

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