GSK follows Genentech in partnering with Immunocore
August 2013
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author


OXFORD, England—Following on the heels of San Francisco, Calif.-based biotech leader Genentech, British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) became the second pharma in less than a month to sign a joint agreement with Oxford-based Immunocore for access to its biological drugs called ImmTACs, which are targeted toward treating cancer and viral disease.  
The GSK deal, announced in early July, calls for Immunocore to receive a total of up to $212 million in preclinical milestone payments across certain targets, according to a company news release. Each product that reaches the market could net up to $300 million for Immunocore in development and commercial milestone payments.  
Immunocore executives have been mum about the specific types of cancers the current agreement will focus on, but the most advanced target is IMCgp100, shown to be effective for the treatment of melanoma. The candidate is currently in Phase I/II clinical trials in both the United Kingdom and the United States.  
Under the terms of the agreement, Immunocore will be responsible for all of the preclinical development and the initial clinical trials in patients, while GSK will be responsible for the remaining development and commercialization of the products. Immunocore's creation of a world-leading platform of bispecific biological drugs—ImmTACs (Immune mobilizing mTCR Against Cancer)—exploit the power of T cell receptors (TCRs) to recognize intracellular changes that occur during cancer or viral infection, according to the company. This unique recognition ability of TCRs sets them apart from traditional antibody-based therapies that can only recognize changes on the surface of cells, and provides, for the first time, the ability to develop extremely potent targeted therapies for cancers that are currently poorly served.  
Both of the pharma giants are intrigued by the potential of Immunocore's TCR technology, which links the receptors with anti-CD3 antibody fragments to create bispecific immunotherapies designed to hunt down and kill cancer cells otherwise invisible to the human immune system. In addition, the TCRs can flag cancer cells that currently have too few peptides on the surface needed for identification, while the antibody fragments marshal killer T cells for an attack, Immunocore states.  
"We are delighted to collaborate with GSK, our second major partnership signed this year," James Noble, Immunocore's CEO, stated in a news release. "GSK is a leading pharmaceutical company with a proven track record in the development of biotherapeutics, and this is an important partnership for Immunocore."  
Immunocore has spent the last two years validating targets suitable for ImmTACs. The company now has over 20 such targets, Noble says.  
"We do not know of any larger deals in the biotech space, assuming that all of the programs reach the market, triggering all of the milestones," he tells DDNEWS. "Immunocore started to promote partnerships as the data came through from the existing trial, with an ImmTAC addressing an antigen known as gp100, relevant to melanoma."
Each of the GSK and Genentech deals relate to an undisclosed number of targets, "but Immunocore has many left," Noble notes. "It is intended to strike one more partnership over the next year, and we already are talking to a number of the largest companies about this third slot."  
In each case, GSK and Genentech have selected unnamed targets that address multiple cancers, he says. Immunocore will provide the ImmTACs, and the partner will choose the first indication in due course.
"It is in the nature of T cell receptors that they generally address multiple cancers," Noble says. "So one ImmTAC might be appropriate for say, 40 percent of prostate patients and 25 percent of breast cancer patients, while another might be the other way around. In other words, like the antibody Herceptin, the patients will be assessed to see whether they are positive for the relevant antigen and then treated or excluded from the treatment."  
Laurent Jespers, vice president and head of innovation for Biopharm R&D at GSK, stated in a news release, "We are very excited about the opportunity to work together with Immunocore to develop ImmTACs. We believe ImmTACs offer a tremendous opportunity in treating cancer and in other areas where there is a large unmet medical need. "

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