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INVESTING IN PENNSYLVANIA’S FUTURE

Immunotope: New Vaccine Stops Cancer Cells from Reproducing

Preventing cancer from recurring after surgery and chemotherapy is one of the keys to successful long-term patient care and survival. But while surgery and other treatments for late-stage cancer greatly reduce tumors, they’re not typically effective in eliminating the very small numbers of cancer cells that remain undestroyed and undetected in the body following early treatment.

Immunetope

(L to R) Scientist Sid Murthy, president and CSO Ramila Philip and scientist Jennifer Zerfass examine mass spectrometry data used for validation of the company’s vaccine. Immunotope is conducting a Phase I therapeutic vaccine clinical trial for treatment of women with advanced-stage ovarian and breast cancer at the Duke University Cancer Center.

To fill this gap in therapy options, Immunotope is developing a novel cancer vaccine that could stop cancer cells left in the body after conventional treatment from later reproducing and spreading. Immunotope’s lead product, the OCPM immunotherapeutic vaccine, is being tested in a Phase I clinical trial in ovarian and breast cancer patients in a study being conducted at the Duke University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“The vaccine works by activating immune cells in the body to attack cancer in multiple ways, all of which are vital to cancer cell growth, survival or metastasis,” says Ramila Philip, president and chief scientific officer of Immunotope. “Doctors won’t have to see a tumor in order to treat it. Our vaccine will be administered right after surgery and chemotherapy to prevent cancer from developing somewhere in the body at a later time.”

Bridging the Capital Gap

Immunotope has been able to conduct the Phase I clinical trial in breast and ovarian cancer at Duke University thanks to an investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP). After reviewing Immunotope’s request for funding for the clinical trial, BFTP decided to invest $350,000.

“For a startup like Immunotope, clinical trials raise the value of the company. However, in order to do a clinical trial, you need to raise money-it’s a Catch-22,” Philip says. “Ben Franklin gave us the funds to get a clinical evaluation started, which has made Immunotope a much more attractive company for investors.”

The Road to Commercialization

Immunotope is located in Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, a $15 million facility in Doylestown, PA. The center opened in 2006 and soon received designation as the focal point for the state’s 19th Keystone Innovation Zone. BFTP is a major supporter of the center, along with the Hepatitis B Foundation and Delaware Valley College.

Immunotope was formed in 2003 with the early intellectual property that Philip generated and purchased from her previous employer, Argonex, Inc., where she was vice president of research and development. She joined forces with her co-founders Lorraine Keller, Ph.D. and Mohan Philip Ph.D., MBA to start the new company. “Since then, Immunotope has filed over five patent applications and continues to generate a strong IP portfolio,” Philip says.

Dr. Timothy Block, professor at Drexel University, president of the Hepatitis B Institute and head of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, provided the fledgling company with a laboratory in 2004, prior to Immunotope’s becoming a tenant at the new center.

“In return, I became one of the faculty members of the Institute for Virus and Hepatitis Research and an adjunct professor at Drexel,” says Philip, “and started collaborating with their faculties.”

An Open Market for a Novel Product

Immunotope has few competitors in the immunotherapy market space because most companies package existing antigens rather than discover new ones. “These companies need novel and clinically relevant antigens like the ones we have, so our so-called competitors are actually our customers,” Philip says.

Immunotope currently has 10 employees, and once they receive their second round of financing, they plan to hire regulatory, clinical and research staff to increase their R&D and clinical activities, as well as a business staff to expand their partnership and licensing. In March, Immunotope announced that Edward L. Erickson has joined the company as Interim Chief Executive Officer, and Mr. Erickson and Elizabeth Tallett have been elected to Immunotope’s Board of Directors.

Phase II and Phase III trials may come sooner than is typical, says Philip. “Because cancer patients have nothing else to take, this vaccine may be applicable for a fast-track approval process. We have a couple of cancer therapeutics in the pipeline, and we are also working on infectious diseases such as HPV and HIV, because our technology is very relevant to therapeutic vaccines for chronic viral diseases as well.”

Early cancer detection is also a key to successful long-term care. “We are developing diagnostic tools that will go hand-in-hand with our therapeutic agents so that in the future, when a patient gets a cancer diagnosis, we will have a therapy to start treating them right away,” says Philip. “Early cancer detection is great, but you also need a therapeutic agent that can stop the development of cancer. And because you can’t do surgery at the early stages of cancer, the best thing is a vaccine.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes April, 2007
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