Today we’re in Maastricht, the Netherlands, visiting CiMaas. The biotech is harnessing two types of immune cells in its cancer vaccines and cell therapies.
Mission: CiMaas started in 2015 as a spin-off from Maastricht University Medical Center to develop immunotherapies against cancer. The company has two cancer immunotherapies in preclinical development in its pipeline for treating lung cancer, as well as breast cancer and multiple myeloma, respectively.
The first treatment uses a type of immune cell called a dendritic cell in a vaccine to fight lung cancer. First, CiMaas takes a sample of dendritic cells and engineers them to express a common tumor antigen. The cells are then reintroduced to the patient, where they activate white blood cells to attack tumor cells expressing a tumor antigen. CiMaas plans to test this therapy in clinical trials in combination with a checkpoint inhibitor drug, which stops tumor cells from hiding from the immune system.
The second treatment, a cell therapy, uses a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells, which can either coax tumor cells into self-destructing or kill the cells directly. To treat metastasized breast cancer and multiple myeloma, CiMaas is taking natural killer cells from donors and injecting them into the patient, where they attack tumor cells.
What we think: Biotechs have been developing therapeutic cancer vaccines for over four decades, but the task continues to be a major challenge. For example, last year CureVac, a German company, failed in a Phase II study for its prostate cancer vaccine. Bavarian Nordic also terminated a Phase III study for its pancreatic cancer vaccine last year.
However, cancer vaccines that use dendritic cells appear to be the most effective cancer vaccine method so far. Celyad uses the protective properties of natural killer cell receptors in its CAR-T therapies, and CiMaas’ natural killer cell therapy has the potential to be an effective cancer treatment as well.
Image by DutchScenery/Shutterstock