Impressing with immunotherapy
September 2013
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


TEL AVIV, Israel—In the hopes of generating new cancer therapeutics, Compugen Ltd. and Bayer HealthCare have inked a collaboration and license agreement to research, develop and commercialize antibody-based cancer immunotherapies against two novel immune checkpoint regulators identified by Compugen.
"We are very excited to initiate this collaboration with Bayer, a leading global life-science company with a broadening oncology franchise, for the development of antibody-based cancer immunotherapies against these two promising novel immune checkpoint targets," Dr. Anat Cohen-Dayag, president and CEO of Compugen, said in a press release. "In addition, we believe that the prediction and validation of these two targets, through the use of our broadly applicable predictive discovery infrastructure, provides additional validation for our long-term commitment to establishing this unique capability."  
Per the terms of the agreement, the two companies will jointly undertake a preclinical research program, with Bayer holding full control over further development as well as worldwide commercialization rights for potential cancer therapeutics. According to Dr. Zurit Levine, vice president of research and discovery at Compugen, the company's responsibilities will include antibody generation and characterization, and the company will be collaborating with Bayer on early-stage research until the preclinical development candidates are selected. Compugen will receive $10 million up front, and is eligible to receive more than $500 million in potential milestone payments for both programs, in addition to up to $30 million in milestone payments related to preclinical activities. Compugen also stands to receive mid- to high-single-digit royalties on global net sales of any products that result from the agreement.  
"Bayer is committed to translating the science of cancer research into effective therapies helping people affected by cancer live longer and improve their quality of life," Prof. Andreas Busch, member of the Bayer HealthCare Executive Committee and head of global drug discovery, commented in a statement. "Antibody-based immunotherapies are promising approaches in oncology which can stimulate the body's own immune cells to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy is one of our focus areas in oncology research. We are looking forward to expanding our portfolio in this area through partnering with Compugen."
Cancer is able to develop and spread because the cancer cells are capable of expressing certain biological markers that can fool the immune system and cause the body's natural killer cells to pass them by, allowing them to establish tumors. In addition, tumors and their environment can hamper the ability of the immune system to respond effectively, which enables further growth. Immunotherapy seeks to fight cancer by "training" the body's immune system to better identify, target and destroy tumors. The immune checkpoint regulators discovered by Compugen might play a key role in immunosuppression, and researchers are working on therapeutic antibodies that can block the function of these checkpoint regulators to reactivate the body's natural immune response to tumor cells.  
Though no details were released as to any specific cancer types that Bayer and Compugen hope to target, Levine says in general, immune checkpoint regulators such as these could theoretically have use in a variety of cancers. The immune checkpoint regulators are Compugen's first focused discovery program, she adds. In addition to that research, the company also announced a second program for antibody-drug conjugate cancer therapy in April, which will focus on recurrent cancers and issues of poor survival rates.  
"The field of cancer immunotherapy is an exciting, promising and growing field. Lately, cancer immunotherapies have demonstrated impressive clinical benefit, even for end-stage patients with difficult-to-treat tumors such as metastatic melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer," says Levine. "Unlike conventional cancer therapies—which act by directly targeting the cancer cells, resulting often in only transient clinical responses as cancer cells become resistant—clinical responses to cancer immunotherapy tend to be durable, sometimes resulting in dramatic long-term survival and absence of resistance or recurrences."
Bayer and Compugen first worked together in 2009 to evaluate a specific tumor target. The pharmaceutical giant represents a good partner because "Bayer's expertise matches very well with Compugen's capabilities," says Levine, and because of its growing oncology business and focus on immunotherapy.
Code: E091305

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