Genentech deal amps up cancer immunotherapy push

Reporter- San Francisco Business Times Jun 27, 2013, 5:58pm PDT

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Genentech Inc. will seize on a new partner’s technology to develop a new generation of drugs that boost the immune system in its battle against cancer.

South San Francisco-based Genentech will pay $10 million to $20 million per program — and make development and commercial milestone payments of more than $300 million — to the United Kingdom’s Immunocore Ltd.

The key to Immunocore’s work is what it calls “ImmTACs.” Those drugs are T cell receptors — integral parts of the immune system’s attack against foreign invaders — engineered to possess a “unique recognition ability” that allows them to identify intercellular changes that occur during cancer or viral infection.

Traditional antibody-based therapies, Immunocor said, recognize changes only on the surface of cells.

“We believe Immunocore is the leading company in T cell receptor biology and drug development and an excellent partner for Genentech in this area,” James Sabry, senior vice president of Genentech partnering, said in a press release.

Genentech has dived deep into immunotherapies, a potential $35 billion market. At the recent American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, it presented data from several early-stage immunotherapies. Its anti-PDL1 approach disrupts a protein called PD-L1, making cancer cells more vulnerable to the body’s natural immune system attacks.

Immunocore CEO James Noble told FierceBiotech that ImmTACs can target as few as 10 peptides on the surface of a cancer cell, providing a kind of early-alert system for recruiting natural T cells to attack the tumors.

Ron Leuty covers biotech, higher education and China for the San Francisco Business Times.

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