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.
Previously, 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).
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.
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.