Cancer’s Phoenix

A safer IL-2-based immunotherapy without compromised efficacy

Although recombinant IL-2 was a cancer immunotherapy long before checkpoint inhibitors came on the scene, the cytokine’s impact was limited by its potential for lethal side effects. Most attempts to lower toxicity also decreased efficacy. Now, a Washington University in St. Louis team has presented a strategy that not only avoids the adverse events but boosts efficacy, and has spun out Courier Therapeutics Inc. to take it to the clinic.

Company founder Alexander Krupnick, who led the study while at Wash U, told BioCentury that while the cancer immunotherapy field has largely abandoned IL-2, with only a handful of companies still trying to tweak the protein, he thinks the approach still holds promise. Krupnick is now an associate professor of surgery at University of Virginia.

Novartis AG pioneered recombinant IL-2 with Proleukin aldesleukin, which was approved in 1992 for renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and in 1998 for metastatic melanoma.

According to Krupnick, Proleukin produced complete response rates that were comparable to the anti-PD-1 therapies Opdivo nivolumab from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Keytruda pembrolizumab from Merck & Co. Inc., but the remissions lasted considerably longer (see “Check This Out,” page 3).

Figure: Check This Out

Therapeutic response rates for metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) patients treated with high-dose IL-2 or anti-PD1 antibody therapies, broken down by complete response (CR), partial

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