Swiss Biotech Upgrades its Cancer Vaccine with Checkpoint Inhibitors

09/05/2017 - 2 minutes

Vaximm has partnered up with pharma giants Merck and Pfizer to combine their new checkpoint inhibitor avelumab with Vaximm’s cancer vaccine lead.

After Merck KGaA and Pfizer received FDA approval last month for their first PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor avelumab to treat patients with Merkel cell carcinoma, the pharma partners are looking to further dig into a billion-dollar market. The two players just partnered up with Swiss-German Vaximm to combine avelumab with Vaximm’s cancer vaccine candidate VXM01 in two open-label Phase I/II trials in glioblastoma and metastatic colorectal cancer.

Vaximm, a biotech based in Basel and Mannheim, is developing oral cancer vaccines to stimulate T cell responses against a wide range of cancer antigens. Its platform is based on the attenuated bacterial strain Ty21, which is commonly used for vaccination and can be engineered to express the desired cancer antigens.

Its lead product consists of Ty21 modified to express the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR2), which is highly overexpressed in several tumor types. Once ingested, the vaccine can stimulate T cells to attack the tumor vasculature as well as cancer cells directly.

VEGF induces the growth of blood vessels supporting cancer cell growth and survival.

The biotech has already completed a Phase I/II study of VXM01 in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer and is currently evaluating the vaccine in colorectal cancer and glioblastoma patients. These two deadly cancers are untouched by checkpoint inhibitors so far, and therefore represent a promising market for the companies, where checkpoint inhibitors alone might not do the trick.

The understanding of which cancer patients will respond to the new wave of immunotherapies remains low and the immuno-oncology space is clearly driven by trial and error – leading to unexpected late-stage failures even for the most promising therapies.

Yet, antibodies directed against the PD-1/PD-L1 axis have shown extremely promising results in several cancers, which is why companies like RocheUS Merck, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and most recently also AstraZeneca have all leaped onto the massive market, pushing their individual antibodies through clinical programs. Bolstering the partial success of these antibodies with an innovative cancer vaccine could help pin down the more elusive tumors.

Images via / ellepigrafica / Anna Durinikova

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