Immunocore & Adaptimmune: Battling Cancer




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Video title: Immunocore & Adaptimmune: Battling Cancer
Released on: May 05, 2009. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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  • Summary
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James Noble, CEO of both Immunocore and Adaptimmune joined Fintan Walton at BioTrinity to talk through the separate business models the two companies have despite having been founded with the same platform and the same management. Although Immunocore is a new company it has ten years of research behind it and loyal investors who help to provide funding for the company until the desired big pharma partner is found. Adaptimmune's specialised cell therapy treatment of cancer will be in the clinic later in 2009 and will also be partnered once in clinical trials.
History of the technology and origin of Immunocore
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures business review here at BioTrinity in Oxford. On this show I have James Noble who is CEO of a company called Immunocore which is based here in Oxford. Welcome to the show.
James Noble:
Thank you very much.
Fintan Walton:
James you are the CEO of a company called Immunocore and that company is Oxford based as I just said but it's technology, it's intellectual property comes out of another company which you are a CEO of, which is company called Avidex Limited and Avidex Limited was acquired few years ago by MediGene [PharmaDeals ID = 25159]. Now this technology has been spun out of MediGene into this new company called Immunocore. So tell me " tell me that story because you know your " the actual technology itself originated within the University of Oxford and the -- the original Avidex Limited also had shareholders that backed Avidex Limited which are now with Immunocore so tell us the history of " of the technology and how it's got into Avidex Limited then moved into Immunocore?
James Noble:
Okay, so well Immunocore as you say is a new company is a new spin out from a German company called MediGene but actually the research goes back 10-years I first invested a tiny Rhudex might in 1999 into this company when it was still within the University of Oxford which is a spin out from the University Institute of molecular Medicine. So first become Avidex Limited , then Avidex Limited was sold to MediGene and then we have bought back the product that were come out to the University of Oxford in late 2008 we bought it back. So although it's a new company it's got 10 years of research and I'm pleased to say that people who bought it back were the original investors in Avidex Limited 10 years ago. They've seen the company grow, they saw the technology develop and I think it's now reached the stage where it seizes to be a technology and becomes a pipeline of products and that's the excitement of it and that's why they reinvested.
T cell receptors: underlying science of the technology and how it works.
Fintan Walton:
So what's the underlying science to this technology?
James Noble:
Okay well in broad terms you have two sides to your immune system you have antibodies which deal with foreign entities and you have T-cells which deal with disease cells. There are lots of companies making antibodies like monoclonal antibodies but there has been no company that has ever made something with the T-cell-receptor, because they couldn't make the T-cell-receptor and that was the breakthrough we had. So really we dominate the field of looking to treat disease cells by producing T-cell-receptors in the laboratory, so we mimic the other half of the immune system from the antibody system by making T-cell-receptors and then we use these T-cell-receptors to target disease cells and kill them.
Fintan Walton:
So when you talk about T-cell-receptors these are obviously protein based molecules is there a specific delivery that's required to get to make sure that these T-cells target effectively?
James Noble:
No there will just be a simple injection when they come to obviously get to market there will be an injection just like the monoclonal antibody, it's a fascinating system essentially your body has got millions-of-millions-of millions of these T-cells in and they use the T-cell-receptors to look for things called Antigens which identify what's going in inside the cell, so you can actually see what's going on inside the cell and see whether it's diseased or not and if it is diseased the T-cell-receptor will alert the T-cell system to say this is looks very bad it looks like a disease cell we need to go at it and kill it the immune response is then triggered and kills all the cells that look like that and that's going on all the time and particularly with viruses and cancer there is a thing that's inside the cell and then we see them from outside the cell and then we try to kill them using our T-cell-receptor system.
Fintan Walton:
So these T-cell-receptors how they specifically made, I mean they are obviously derived and they are from using molecular biology techniques, genetic engineering techniques but are there, are they actually modified in any way or they just a natured T-cells?
James Noble:
Yes we engineer them with. Problem with cancer for example is that of course you have T-cells who recognize the cancer cells but unfortunately cancer cells have a habit of hiding by dropping these Antigens on the surface they down regulate them, there is way of escaping the immune system so what we have done is we are overcoming that by engineering the T-cell-receptors to extremely high affinitive or potency as it's called and making them find the cancer cells even when they've reduced this the number of Antigens to 5, 6 or a dozen Antigens and that's really what is very exciting. we are using exactly the same mechanisms the body uses to fight cancer cells but with roughly a million times the ability to find the disease cells so and we have shown, we can show under test as we show under a microscope we can show our T-cell-receptors finding cells ignored by normal human T-cell receptors. So we think that affinity is very, very important and that's really what the company is based on.
Focusing on effective therapy area and clinical trials.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So clearly you using T-cell-receptors brings you into as you already mentioned in the field of cancer so obviously as a " as a biotech company you have to choose your indication, you have choose your therapy area carefully because you're financing the early parts of the clinical trials that's gonna make sure they are effective so what are the areas that you've focused on?
James Noble:
Well that's really very lucky actually because no other company is in T-cell-receptors so we have the whole field and there are more than hundred of cancer Antigens known which are in the lipcher [Ph], so some are very specific such as a melana [ph] or GP100 as is called for Melanoma, so that would be just for Melanoma but there are other ones, there is very well one called WT1which is actually present on the 30 or 40 major tumors, so we would need obviously a big pharma backing for something that looked at 30 or 40 different tumors, but we could, we can focus on the Melanoma trials and get a partnering to do the more wide ranging trials and that's really the strategy of the company.
Fintan Walton:
So that's what you are focused on at the moment. So you've entered into clinical trials?
James Noble:
We are not in clinical trials yet, we are just in pre clinical models.
Fintan Walton:
So when do you expect to come into clinical trials?
James Noble:
We hope to be in clinical trials next year that will obviously will be many years after that until a drug is approved but we hope to get into the clinic next year.
Strategy going forward with Adaptimmune and Immunocore as two separate entities.
Fintan Walton:
Right, now the thing you've mentioned about Immunocore what was -- that you brought the pastic [Ph] investors a lot of them were, most of them were, all of them are high net worth individuals from here in Oxford, and they followed you into Immunocore you've raised 7.2 million so far from these
James Noble:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
From this individuals Angel investors as they are sometimes. So what's' the next stage in funding?
James Noble:
Well the next stage in funding is we not actually rising money right now. We are hoping to talk to partners in the pharmaceutical industry and to interest them in taking rather an equity stake or doing a partnership or both and that's really why we are here. We are talking to companies rather than straight forward venture capitals at the moment which is a very difficult thing to do. But I just think investors are pretty keen on continuing back here, so we are on a very strong position from that point of view.
Fintan Walton:
One thing we haven't mentioned is Adaptimmune because this is the other company that shares the same T-cell-receptor platform and that company is focused more on cell therapy rather than protein drug based therapies which you just mentioned. So first question is are the same shareholders in Adaptimmune?
James Noble:
Yes the same shareholders back us, the same management and the same shareholders.
Fintan Walton:
So what and why was the strategy of having the two parts split out?
James Noble:
So this is Adaptimmune has a completely different business model in fact a completely different therapeutic area although it's based on the same idea of strengthening the T-cell-receptors this is what is a very personalized individual medicine and this is where you take out some of these T-cells in an individual with the disease and then you " you boost their T-cell-receptors ability and then you put the back the gene for those T-cell-receptors back into the cell and give the cells back to the same patients, so each patient has their own medicine if you like. It's a revolutionary idea but in many people's view it's probably the most potent way of dealing with something, so for example there we look at AIDS as well as cancer and we will be in AIDS trial later this year in the United States with a cell therapy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Fintan Walton:
So it's an (indiscernable)system?
James Noble:
Yes it is, yes yeah.
Fintan Walton:
So clearly having these, you are a CEO of Adaptimmune, you are a CEO of Immunocore. How do you see those two companies moving forward now as separate entities?
James Noble:
Well Adaptimmune as I say will be in the clinical later this year and will also be in the clinic for cancer next year, so much shorter process finally enough dealing with cells because it's all done within the hospital you don't have to huge manufacturing facility, it's actually done within the hospital cell handling. So they simply take a patient to take the cells out there is certain gene they put them back in, and the whole process is managed by the hospital and it's subject to FDA approval to start that trial will be in trials later this year. But it's never going to be a Masspro you'll never find a packet of this stuff in the " in the local pharmacy this is very specialized hospital based medicine and that 's really why we started in United States. So it's probably small numbers of patients and we hope with very high potency obviously we don't know of any of the side effects yet, it's increasingly popularity the National Cancer Institute in the United States is very keen on cell therapy. So it's a --- it should become a much bigger thing in the years to come. So that's really where that -- that company is going once we are in trials, then we will seek partners for the various products. On the Immunocore side the business model as I said earlier is to try to find a broader ranging pharmaceutical alliance because we have many plenty potential products and each one will be very expensive to develop.
Current environment and Fundamental changes from funding and partnership perspective.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Okay. James you're known as a version of biotechnology particularly here in Oxford and you know obviously we are just entering now the second quarter of 2009 we have a new economic environment, for somebody who is a CEO of a biotech company with high net worth individuals backing in how do you see the current environment from both a funding perspective but also from a partnering perspective? Do you think with your history and background is this a completely new era for biotech companies or how things fundamentally changed or it is just we are just going through a yet another tough patch?
James Noble:
I think things have fundamentally changed several times all through. In 1989 I managed to rise 40 million pounds in a private placing, yeah that was just simply impossible there that just doesn't exist and then gradually the listed market came along and then that's got away and then it went " went back to the venture capital market. I think the problem now and I think it is a very big problem is the venture capitalist themselves are having to fund for such a long period before they can actually make a profit on their investment is almost out of there reach and I notice the number of transactions being done is very, very much down so I think this is the different league than before it is impossible to float a biotech company at the moment and it's very, very difficult to achieve funding. But having said that the other side the product side the fact is the companies very, very much need new products and they need pipelines and they need new medicines to keep going. There was a demo [ph] there was a speech yesterday about the pattern to cliff facing lot of major pharma companies and you see at these conferences as we saw today that the company -- the big companies are actively seeking out compounds I suspect it's just a different model that will be more partner based and less straight forward venture capital base for many companies.
Fintan Walton:
And exits [ph] for investors is through acquisitions like MediGene's acquisition of Avidex?
James Noble:
I think the only exits at the moment are acquisitions but then again pharma companies are doing a lot of them there is no floatation of course no IPO market that's all at the moment.
Fintan Walton:
Okay, well thanks very much James for coming on the show. Thank you very much indeed.
James Noble:
Thank you very much.
James Noble
Chief Executive Officer
James Noble is CEO of Immunocore Limited. As the former CEO of Avidex Limited, Jameshas in-depth knowledge of Immunocore's mTCR technology as well as a wealth of prior experience in the international biotech community. Former CFO of British Biotech prior to leading Avidex for 7 years, James also sits as a non-executive director on the boards of GW Pharmaceuticals plc and Evolve Capital plc (both listed on AIM) and of Curagen Corporation (listed on NASDAQ) plus the privately held Axellis Limited. He is also CEO of Adaptimmune Limited.
Immunocore
Immunocore is a privately owned biotechnology company focused on the development of engineered monoclonalTcellreceptors (mTCRs) as the next evolutionary step after monoclonal antibodies. Unlike conventional monoclonal antibodies, Immunocore'smTCR are not restricted to targeting cells via their membrane proteins. Instead, mTCR use the power of the body's own immune surveillance system, the T-cell-receptor, as a means of targeting cells differentially expressing any protein, including intracellular ones. This platform technology opens up the ability of targeting cells based upon numerous known and well validated molecular targets unsuitable for monoclonal antibodies thus removing a key bottleneck to the future development of effective biological therapeutics. Immunocore is developing a broad platform of mTCR-based therapeutics for the treatment of a range of cancers, type I diabetes, and HIV. Adaptimmune Founded in July 2008, Adaptimmune is focused on the use of Tcelltherapy to treat cancersand infectious disease . It aims to utilize the body's own machinery " the T cell " to target and destroy cancerous or infected cells. Adaptimmune's mission is to take so-called "adoptive Tcelltherapy " to the next level by leveraging it's expertise in engineering high affinity Tcellreceptorproteins (TCRs) as a means of "supercharging" the strength of patient T cell responses. Adaptimmune holds an exclusive license to the use of Immunocore Ltd's (formerly Avidex Limited/MediGene) unique Tcellreceptorengineering technology for adoptive Tcelltherapy. It is aiming to exploit this unique capability in the development of targeted T cell therapy in cancer and infectious disease. Backed by private investors and located alongside Immunocore Ltd in it's Oxford facilities, Adaptimmune operates a virtual business model with a small, focused management team and strong academic collaborations for the conduct of research, preclinical and clinical studies in HIV and cancer.