Immunovaccine Raises Money, Has 3 Cancer Vaccine Trials in the Works

November 25, 2013
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ovarian tumor cell

Granulosa cell tumor of the ovary

ovarian tumor cell

Granulosa cell tumor of the ovary

Analysts say there’s a multibillion-dollar market up for the taking for companies who figure out how to turn on the immune system to fight tumor cells and delay the progression of cancer. Canadian company Immunovaccine wants a piece of that market and recently said it’s reached an important milestone in getting there.

Immunovaccine just raised $4.2 million in private funding. Combined with a $5 million loan from its home province, Nova Scotia, and $32 million from government agencies and research institutions, Immunovaccine says it’s now funded into 2015, including the launch of three Phase 2 clinical trials next year.

At the core of its pipeline is DepoVax, an adjuvant platform with the potential to provide controlled and prolonged exposure of antigens and adjuvant to the immune system by creating a depot at the site of vaccination.

“Normal vaccines get cleared from site of injection within hours or days. You have to repeatedly vaccinate, and even then you might not generate a strong immune response,” Chief Operating Officer Marc Mansour explained during a recent interview with MedCity News. “We’re forcing the immune system to process it over days and weeks instead of hours. If you have the right immune activators, you end up with a stronger immune response.”

So far, Immunovaccine has advanced two vaccines through Phase I clinical studies. The first, DPX-Survivac, targets the protein survivin, which is broadly expressed across many tumor cell types. By combining the vaccine with at least one immune modulator, Immunovaccine is hoping to delay or prevent cancer recurrence in ovarian cancer and glioblastoma patients in two Phase 2 studies that will start next year. The strategy is to use the vaccine to mop up leftover circulating tumor cells in the blood after chemotherapy, Mansour said.

The second vaccine, DPX-0907, is also on track to enter a Phase 1/2 trial with breast and ovarian cancer patients in Italy. This vaccine is designed to train the body’s T-cells to recognize the multiple antigens incorporated in the vaccine, so that they recognize and attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Mansour said the immunotherapy approach is generating a lot of excitement among Big Pharmas, citing Merck, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche as examples. Several promising proof-of-concept trials over the past few years seem to have restored hope in the ability of drug developers to be able to stimulate an immune response against cancer.

Meanwhile, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, company is also advancing a pipeline of vaccines against infectious diseases including malaria, respiratory syncytial virus and anthrax.

[Image credit: Flickr user Ed Uthman]

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