Here are the most innovative therapies presented by European biotechs fighting cancer during the ASCO 2017 meeting in Chicago.

European biotech was in the spotlight during this year’s edition of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting, with impressive results from some of the most novel approaches under development to fight multiple forms of cancer. From a billion-euro deal on checkpoint inhibitors to vaccines made of live bacteria, here are the highlights of what leading European biotechs presented at ASCO 2017.

ASCO 2017 European biotech antibodies

On Sunday, the Cambridge-based antibody specialist F-star, led by the successful biotech leader John Haurum, announced a massive deal with the German Merck to develop and commercialize five bispecific immuno-oncology antibodies that could reach over €1Bn. The deal includes FS118, a bispecific antibody against two checkpoint inhibitors, LAG-3 and PD-L1. Its superiority over monospecific antibodies, for now only proven in vitro, could put Merck ahead of its big competitors, BMS, MSD and Roche, in the coveted PD-L1 / PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor space.

The Danish antibody giant Genmab presented a Phase I/IIa update on HuMax-AXL-ADC, an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) licensed from a collaboration with Seattle Genetics that searched for the best combination of Genmab’s antibodies and its US partner’s ADC technology. The ADC targets AXL, a signaling molecule present in many solid tumors, and has shown in vivo activity against pancreas, thyroid, lung, esophageal and cervical cancers as well as malignant melanoma.

Genmab’s partner Janssen presented several studies in patients with multiple myeloma regarding new combinations for daratumumab, an antibody already in the market that targets the CD38 antigen, which is highly expressed on multiple myeloma cells. However, the drug’s IP is being challenged in a lawsuit filed by MorphoSys, which is developing its own antibody against CD38, MOR202. At ASCO 2017, MorphoSys presented positive results for its competing candidate in combination with immunomodulatory drugs from an ongoing Phase I/IIa trial.

The German Affimed presented two antibodies with promising results in the preclinical stage. AFM26 is a novel bispecific antibody that targets both the B-cell maturation antigen (BMCA) on myeloma cells and the CD16A NK-cell engager antigen to direct NK cells against multiple myeloma. AFM24 also targets CD16A, but directs the NK cells against EGFRwt instead, a receptor expressed in healthy epithelial tissues and overactivated in numerous solid tumors. Affimed’s preclinical data seems to indicate that this candidate could overcome the issues of most anti-EGFR therapeutics, which  present toxic side effects and induce resistance over time.

ASCO 2017 European biotech peptides

From Denmark, IO Biotech showcased the design of a Phase 2 trial, planned to start later this year, that will test whether IO102, a peptide vaccine against the indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) enzyme, can boost the activity of an anti-PD1 checkpoint inhibitor in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The IDO enzyme, overexpressed in multiple types of cancer, is an emerging checkpoint inhibitor target given that the enzyme inhibits the immune response by locally depleting amino acids that are essential for T cells.

From Lyon, Erytech presented results from a Phase IIb trial evaluating eryspase,  an L-asparaginase enzyme that is delivered encapsulated in red blood cells, in combination with chemotherapy. Up to 70% of pancreatic adenocarcinomas have mutations that prevent them from producing their own asparagine, which is necessary for proliferation and survival, so depleting it from the serum with eryspase results in the apoptosis of susceptible cancer cells.

Oslo-based Targovax presented data from a Phase I/II trial with TG01, a cancer vaccine that induced immune activation in 95% of the 19 participating patients with pancreatic cancer and increased their survival by a median of almost 3 years. The vaccine candidate is a mixture of seven synthetic peptides representing the most common mutations of the p21RAS oncoprotein, which induces a specific T cell response against tumoral cells with RAS mutations when administered along GM-CSF. TG01 is the first peptide vaccine against RAS that has entered clinical trials.

Immunocore, from the UK, announced positive survival data from a Phase I trial with its T-cell receptor (TCR) IMCgp100 in patients with metastatic uveal melanoma. “To our knowledge, no other drug treatments, including checkpoint inhibitors, have demonstrated such positive results in metastatic uveal melanoma before,” declared Christina Coughlin, CMO, in a statement. Along with an orphan drug designation from the FDA, the data presented has led the company to initiate a pivotal trial to advance the candidate to commercialization as a first-line treatment for this deadly form of eye cancer.

ASCO 2017 European biotech bacteria

The Swiss-German Vaximm presented the details of its Phase I trial with VXM01, a vaccine against glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The candidate is composed of the live, attenuated bacterial strain Ty21, routinely used in vaccinations against typhoid fever, modified to carry the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR2) gene to prime the immune system against it. VEGFR2 is highly overexpressed in the cancer cells of several tumor types, including brain cancer.

The progress of all these promising approaches to undermine the weaknesses of multiple forms of cancer presented at ASCO 2017 demonstrate how knowledge of the biological processes that drive cancer is increasing and paving the way for biotech to develop increasingly better therapies that can significantly improve the survival and quality of life of people suffering from these diseases. Stay tuned to follow the most recent advancements in the fight against cancer from European biotechs.


Images via Sebastian Kaulitzki, vitstudio, molekuul_be, Juan Gaertner / Shutterstock

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  • Great article with a lot of new developments in the European sector. One company I noticed wasn’t mentioned was Novartis, which in terms of clinical development, seems to leading in CAR-T with its candidate CTL019 for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I believe the company presented positive data at ASCO from its Phase 2 JULIET study. At three months the ORR hit 45% among 23 of 51 patients evaluated with 37% achieving a complete response and 8% achieving a partial response. mondaymorning.com