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Immunocore, Lilly Collaborate on T-Cell Cancer Therapies

T-cell

T-cell (NIAID/NIH)

16 July 2014. Drug maker Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis and Immunocore Ltd., a biotechnology company in Oxford, U.K. are jointly discovering new cancer therapies based on T-cells in the body’s immune system. The deal will pay Immunocore $15 million for each new therapy identified, with additional payments of $10 million for each therapy candidate the companies agree to develop into clinical stages.

Immunocore’s technology platform harnesses T-cells in the immune system to generate an immune response to fight cancer. The technology designs T-cell receptors, viral fragments appearing on the surface of T lymphocytes, the white blood cells in the immune system that fight invading viruses. These receptors attract the antigens that bind with antibodies, the molecules that do the fighting.

With this technology, Immunocore produces engineered molecules called Immune Mobilizing Monoclonal T-Cell Receptors Against Cancer or ImmTACs, which find and control disease cells that would normally escape recognition by the immune system. ImmTACs are monoclonal or highly targeted T-cell receptors that control diseased cells more effectively than monoclonal antibodies, the usual method employed with cancer immunotherapies.

The engineered T-cell receptors, says the company, enable the killing of cancer cells aimed at proteins on the surface of the cell — like monoclonal antibodies — but unlike monoclonal antibodies, can also find targets inside the cells, including proteins secreted by the cells. Because of their precise targeting, says Immunocore, ImmTACs destroy only cancer cells, while avoiding damage to healthy cells.

Under the agreement, Immunocore receives from Lilly an initial payment of $15 million for each new ImmTAC-based therapy discovered, with the two companies jointly selecting the cancers to address. Each new therapy candidate will progress through preclinical stages.

Should the companies agree to develop and commercialize therapies beyond the preclinical stage, Lilly will pay Immunocore $10 million for each candidate, with the companies sharing profits and costs. If Immunocore chooses not to take part in development of the candidates, it can still be eligible for future milestone payments and royalties.

Immunocore, founded in 2008, is a spin-off company from Avidex, a biotechnology enterprise itself spun-off from Oxford University in 1999. Avidex was founded by Oxford immunologist Bent Jakobsen, who is now Immunocore’s chief scientist. The company has one immunotherapy candidate, code-named IMCgp100, in intermediate-stage clinical trials as a treatment for malignant melanoma.

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