Chip Clark, President and CEO
Recent advances in several areas are rekindling new immunotherapeutic approaches that have significantly improved the prognosis of cancer patients. The mechanisms of the immune response to cancer have been instrumental in understanding and utilizing the therapeutic potential of the immune system. However, innovation in cancer immunotherapies has been limited to cancer vaccine delivery systems, overlooking a high-potential aspect: antigen selection. Cancer-specific neoantigens, evolving from mutated proteins in cancer cells, can be highly immunogenic. These neoantigens are, however, often unique to each patient’s cancer and demand development of personalized therapies.
According to Chip Clark, who has served numerous biotechnology, life sciences, and pharmaceutical organizations in diverse leadership roles, the immune system is able to identify and attack cancer cells, but it must be directed in the right way, to drive robust anti-tumor T cell immune responses. Evidently, it is critical to include the right antigens to enable success with cancer vaccines and cell therapies.
This is precisely where Genocea Biosciences is in a league of its own. Standing on a firm belief that “targets matter,” Genocea advocates the necessity of selecting the right neoantigens to drive immune responses in cancer patients. On a mission to conquer cancer by developing personalized cancer immunotherapies in multiple tumor types, Genocea strives to develop better cancer immunotherapies through better antigen selection.
Clark, President and CEO of Genocea, emphasizes that while tumor-specific neoantigens provide personalized targets for immunotherapy, vaccines against epitopes predicted by in silico approaches induce CD4+ and CD8+ ex vivo T cell responses, but often to the wrong neoantigens. By contrast, Genocea’s approach identifies the neoantigens to which patients’ T cells can mount anti-tumor T cell responses, and designs its immunotherapies to amplify such responses in order to attack the tumor better. This unique and proprietary antigen discovery platform—ATLAS™
—is used to develop a per-patient tumor-specific immune response profile based on a patient’s own T cell immune response machinery.
We use ATLAS to glean insights from each patient’s immune system–using biology rather than software. We know, rather than predict, the antigens to which patients can respond appropriately
ATLAS, therefore, empirically selects the relevant antigens for each patient. The power of ATLAS emanates from its ability to work for any antigen type and in any patient regardless of their cancer or their genetic makeup. “We use ATLAS to glean insights from each patient’s immune system–using biology rather than software. We know, rather than predict, the antigens to which patients can respond appropriately,” says Clark.
This wherewithal to break new ground in cancer treatment is a by-product of years of research and development and the rich expertise that Genocea brings to the table. Devised by Dr. Darren Higgins, from Harvard Medical School, the scientific founder of Genocea, ATLAS, and the technology powering it, has evolved and matured over the last decade. Currently, ATLAS has demonstrated impressive progress. GEN 009, Genocea’s neoantigen cancer vaccine currently being evaluated in a Phase1/2a clinical trial, has demonstrated ‘unprecedented, unparalleled, unbelievable and unequaled’ immune responses to date. The GEN-009 data presented at the 2019 ASCO conference was selected as a Top 10 Immuno-oncology abstract by the JCO, underscoring the clinical community’s enthusiasm around the product candidate.
The ongoing Phase1/2a study is currently investigating the combination of GEN-009 and standard-of-care PD-1 based regimen in patients with advanced disease and expects to report tumor shrinkage results later in the year. Genocea recently presented positive initial clinical data on the first five patients from the ongoing study. This combination has the potential to boost the effectiveness of immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy in patients with advanced disease.
Genocea’s GEN-011 is an adoptive T cell therapy designed to overcome the limitations of existing T cell-based treatments. Using ATLAS, Genocea can ensure GEN-011 includes billions of tumor neoantigen-specific T cells using peripheral blood. As the current gold standard requires surgery to extract tumor-infiltrating immune cells, and is despite this often comprised largely of non-tumor-specific immune cells, GEN-011 may have efficacy and cost advantages. “We hope to start our clinical trial (of GEN-011) soon, which would enable us to present our first clinical data in patients who have failed checkpoint inhibitor therapies,” adds Clark.
Moving ahead, with a strong value proposition in place, Genocea has no plans of slowing down. While defeating cancer is a steep mountain to scale, Genocea is pushing the envelope with next-generation cancer immunotherapies.