Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, will co-develop Immunocore’s preclinical cancer immunotherapy IMC-C103C, in an expansion of a five-year-old collaboration by the companies that could generate an additional more-than-$100 million for the U.K.-based biotech.
IMC-C103C is designed to target tumors that express the protein Melanoma-Associated Antigen A4 (MAGE-A4), a known cancer-associated antigen expressed in a wide range of malignancies. IMC-C103C applies Immunocore’s Immune Mobilising Monoclonal T-Cell Receptor Against Cancer (ImmTAC) technology.
ImmTACs are bispecific biological drugs designed to apply the power of T-cell receptors (TCRs) to recognize intracellular changes that occur during cancer or viral infection. That recognition ability, according to Immunocore, sets them apart from traditional antibody-based therapies that can only recognize changes on the surface of cells and can provide the ability to develop targeted therapies for cancers that are currently poorly served. Immunocore says ImmTACs can be directed to target and destroy only the cancerous cells, avoiding damage to healthy cells.
Under the expanded collaboration, Immunocore agreed to lead a first-in-human clinical trial intended to establish the safety and preliminary efficacy of IMC-C103C, both as a monotherapy and in combination with Genentech’s marketed cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq® (atezolizumab).
The clinical trial, which is set to begin in early 2019, will be designed to enroll patients across a number of solid tumors, Immunocore said. According to the company’s website, IMC-C103C is in development for non-small cell lung, esophageal, gastric, head and neck, and bladder cancers.
Genentech agreed to pay Immunocore $100 million in upfront fees and payments tied to achieving near-term milestones. Upon establishing proof-of-concept data, Immunocore will retain an option to either continue to co-develop IMC-C103C through the commercialization phase, or fully license the candidate to Genentech in return for additional milestone payments and royalties.
Partnership Launched in 2013
Genentech began partnering with Immunocore to discover and develop ImmTACs in June 2013, when the companies launched a potentially $300 million-plus collaboration.
“We’re excited to move this first molecule forward, both as a single agent and in combination with Tecentriq, and to further explore the role of T cell receptor-directed medicines in fighting cancer,” James Sabry, M.D., Ph.D., global head of pharma partnering, Roche, said in a statement.
Added Immunocore CEO Andrew Hotchkiss: “Genentech is a leader in oncology with extensive immunology expertise, with whom we’ve had a good collaborative relationship for several years,” said in a statement. “We look forward to embarking upon this new partnership to investigate whether IMC-C103C could ultimately improve the lives of people with MAGE-A4 positive cancers.”
Founded in 2008, Immunocore traces its roots back to Avidex, which was founded in 1999 as a spin-out from the University of Oxford to develop novel T-cell receptor technology invented by Bent Jakobsen, Ph.D., the company’s founder and CSO.
In addition to Genentech, Immunocore has partnerships to discover ImmTAC-based therapies with GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca subsidiary MedImmune—the latter an up-to-$320 million per program agreement inked in 2014.
Immunocore also has a co-discovery and co-development partnership with Eli Lilly also launched in 2014 that could generate for Immunocore $25 million-per-candidate-developed. And last year, the Gates Foundation agreed to invest up to $40 million in Immunocore to support the development of the company’s soluble TCR-based ImmTAV® (immune mobilizing monoclonal TCRs against virus) and ImmTAB® (immune mobilizing monoclonal TCRs against bacteria) therapeutics for infectious diseases.