Immuno-oncology company Imugene’s (ASX: IMU) oncolytic virotherapy (OV) drug will receive a boost after City of Hope researchers received a US Department of Defense grant to study the drug in gastric cancer sufferers.
City of Hope researchers Dr Yanghee Woo and Prof Yuman Fong received the $564,173 grant titled “Discovery of Immune Biomarkers That Predict Response to a Novel Chimeric Immuno-Oncolytic Virus Encoding Anti-PD-L1 in Gastric Cancer Peritoneal Carcinomatosis.”
The grant will be used to study Imugene’s CF33 Oncolytic Chimeric Poxvirus, which is known as (OV) and is a means of using naturally-occurring or genetically modified viruses to infect, replicate in, and kill cancer cells, while sparing healthy cells.
The CF33 OV was first developed in the lab headed by Prof Fong as part of two different constructs – one version of the virus is “armed” with an immune checkpoint inhibitor inserted in the virus, which is known as CheckVacc and the other an unarmed construct, known as Vaxinia.
Imugene has declared that it plans to conduct two separate phase 1 clinical trials next year to test both the CheckVacc and Vaxinia constructs of its oncolytic virotherapy.
The first OV for humans was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in treating of metastatic melanoma.
One intriguing correlation which Imugene is optimistic about researching is the discovery that many cancer cell characteristics that lead to chemotherapy and radiation resistance enhance the success of OV.
According to Imugene, it has shown that CF33 was able to shrink injected tumours and distant non-injected tumours in human triple-negative breast cancer, colon cancer, and ovarian cancer xenograft models in mice without adverse effects.
Furthermore, these results were obtained at a dose that is several orders of magnitude lower than doses used for OVs under clinical testing. CF33 was also able to shrink multiple types of cancer at extremely low doses and was able to affect not only injected tumours, but also non-injected distant tumours.
Advancing cancer research at the City of Hope
The City of Hope is a world-renowned independent research and treatment centre for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases based near Los Angeles in the US.
The two researchers that will lead the study both have extensive expertise in gastric cancer research and have both been dubbed “pioneers” in both the laboratory and the operating room.
The grant is specifically focused on stomach cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects US military service members, veterans, and their beneficiaries who have increased exposure to hazardous environmental risk factors, such as bacterial infections, radiation and tobacco smoking.
According to researchers, gastric cancer leads to a fatal evolution in the form of “peritoneal carcinomatosis” in more than 60% of cases.
In an attempt to study this connection and potentially develop a treatment, researchers at the City of Hope facility say that a combined approach using Imugene’s CF33 armed to express an anti-PD-L1 antibody as immune modulator could specifically kill cancer cells, convert the immunologically cold environment of peritoneal carcinomatosis into a hot environment, and enhance overall efficacy of stomach cancer therapy.
“Imugene and City of Hope are committed to help improve the length and quality of life for patients with gastric cancer,” said Leslie Chong, managing director and chief executive officer of Imugene.
“We congratulate Dr Yanghee Woo and Dr Yuman Fong on receiving this sizable grant. It is an honour to work with the prestigious and prolific team at City of Hope to expand the development of CF33,” Ms Chong added.
Notably, Imugene’s proposal to license CF33 from City of Hope remains subject to several customary conditions and shareholder approval at a forthcoming Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to be held on 18 November 2019.
This morning’s news had an immediate effect on Imugene’s shares, helping them add more than 9% up to $0.023.