The latest breakthrough in cancer treatment is in the field of immune-oncology. This form of treatment uses or enhances the patient’s own immune system to be able to stop the growth of cancer cells. While these therapies are promising, they traditionally only leverage the adaptive immune system and only work in a fraction of patients. Due to these limitations, many companies are now trying to draw out other members of the immune system to fight cancer.
The Lexington, MA-based startup ImmuneXcite is developing a very interesting approach that take advantage of both the innate and adaptive immune systems. They use a specific sugar called beta-1,6-glucan, a sugar normally found on the cell walls of fungi that attract neutrophils, a member of the innate immune system. The idea is to link this sugar to an antibody, which then would lead neutrophils to a tumor. Once activated, neutrophils help recruit other immune cells, including those of the adaptive immune system.
One potential advantage of the innovative technology is that the body might learn to remember a tumor, and continue to kill cancer cells, even after the drug is gone. The platform represents a fundamentally new approach in the growing field of cancer immunotherapy, as the field traditionally has focused on the adoptive immune system. Leveraging the power of the innate and adaptive immune system has shown promising results so far, and preclinical data has shown the platform mount an attack against treatment-resistant colorectal and breast cancer. In fact, the transformative approach could treat a wide range of solid and liquid tumors. And maybe most exciting, the targeted product may not require chronic administration. However, it is still very early and some work remains before it can be safely used in people, with the startup planning to begin its first clinical trial in 2018.
ImmuneXcite earlier 2016 raised $8.6 million in a Series A financing round, with investors including Cormorant Asset Management, Sanofi Genzyme BioVentures, and Partners Innovation Fund. The financing has seen the addition of Glaxo and Sanofi Genzyme veterans to its executive crew, and they plan to use the funding to complete studies that will them to choose a lead program to start clinical trials.