Neo wave

Why the neoantigen field thinks it won’t go the way of traditional cancer vaccines

The central thesis in the increasingly hot field of neoantigens is to pick mutations from patient tumors and turn them into personalized immunotherapies. While companies are staking out their space by defining how they will identify and deliver the neoantigens, they share the goal of generating responses that distance the new class from the poor results of traditional cancer vaccines.

The field will get its first hints this year, as clinical data read out from front-runner companies.

BioNTech AG is preparing to publish results from its Phase I melanoma trial for IVAC mutanome, an RNA vaccine encoding multiple patient-specific neoantigens.

And Neon Therapeutics Inc.’s academic partners have submitted for publication Phase I results for NeoVax, a precursor to the company’s synthetic long peptide vaccine NEO-PV-01, in an adjuvant setting for resected melanoma. In 2018, Neon expects to have Phase I results for NEO-PV-01 in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Opdivo nivolumab.

Agenus Inc. has begun recruiting for a Phase I trial of its neoantigen vaccine AutoSynVax, and two more companies, Advaxis Inc. and Aduro Biotech Inc., have submitted INDs for their candidates. At least eight more have programs in preclinical stages -- a sign of the growing belief that neoantigens are key to the future of cancer immunotherapy.

“We recognize that oncology is going in this direction. The concept of elaborate, highly personalized therapies, I just think that’s where oncology’s going,” said Thomas Woiwode, managing director at Versant Ventures, which co-led a $102 million series A round for Gritstone Oncology Inc., a preclinical neoantigen vaccine startup.

The field’s first charge is to show neoantigens pack more punch than traditional cancer vaccines, which target wild-type self proteins, such as embryonic or testes proteins, that are expressed abnormally on tumors and minimally elsewhere. By contrast, neoantigens are newly formed non-self antigens arising from mutations.

Despite decades of work, the traditional approach has yet to deliver a potent approved therapy.

“We spent a lot of time and effort with bioprocess consultants and others to get to the point where we were convinced we could do

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