Roche drops Partnership for Hepatitis Immunotherapy

roche inovio hbv immunotherapy vaccine

While everybody wants to get the next immunotherapy on the market, Roche is turning its back on one. It’s leaving the partnership with Inovio, which focuses on developing a DNA-based immunotherapy to treat Hepatitis B.

roche inovio hepatitis b immunotherapyPreviously, Roche has left projects to focus on immunotherapies, particularly in the hype field of immuno-oncology. This was an important part of the Pharma’s strategy to maintain its leading position in cancer treatments. An example of Roche’s shopping spree in immunotherapies includes a recent €900M deal with Blueprint.

Another US Biotech that Roche had enlisted in its immunotherapy quest was Inovio Pharmaceuticals. In a 2013 partnership, Roche paid $10M upfront to license and co-develop two of its DNA-based vaccines. One of them targets prostate cancer (INO-5150) and the other is meant to treat Hepatitis B (INO-1800).

syncon inovio electroporation dna immunotherapy
Inovio’s SynCon platform to develop DNA-based immunotherapies. (Source: Inovio Pharmaceuticals)

Now, the Hepatitis B immunotherapy is going back to Inovio, which will continue the development by itself. This effectively terminates the partnership, as Roche had already returned the rights of INO-5150 in 2014.

INO-1800 is a vaccine containing synthetic DNA for different proteins of the Hepatitis B virus (HBV), including surface and core antigens. The concept is that these proteins can then be expressed in the body, stimulating an immune response with fewer safety risks.

Other DNA-based therapies are also being developed by Mologen (one of the cool Biotechs to know in Berlin). Vaximm has a different strategy, developing cancer vaccines using bacteria instead.

dna vaccines hepatitis b treatment
Fig. 1: Mechanism of action of DNA vaccines.

The fact that Roche abandoned the two candidates could speak for some skepticism regarding Inovio’s technology. However, both were still in an early stage. In fact, INO-1800 is now in a Phase I trial and it expects results only in the second half of 2017. Furthermore, Inovio is in a €650M deal with AstraZeneca – which seems to be solid so far.

In the case of INO-1800, Inovio’s CEO (Joseph Kim) explained the break-up as ‘Roche’s strategic decision’ to step away from Hepatitis B. Despite Hepatitis being a serious health problem worldwide, the market may be less attractive than autoimmune diseases or cancer.


At Refresh, the Immunotherapy panel discussed the field’s future…


Feature Image Credit: Aerial view of Roche Basel (Roche Media store)
Figure 1 Credit: Xu et al. (2014) Intranasal DNA Vaccine for Protection against Respiratory Infectious Diseases: The Delivery Perspectives. Pharmaceutics (doi: 10.3390/pharmaceutics6030378)


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