RYE BROOK, N.Y., April 22, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Therapy Acceleration Program® (LLS TAP) today announced five new investments aimed at speeding the development of new and improved immunotherapies for the treatment of blood cancers. LLS has dedicated more than $100 million over the past several decades, through both grants and TAP investments, to advancing pioneering approaches that harness cellular immunotherapies to fight blood cancers.
"We are very proud of our role in bringing groundbreaking immunotherapies to patients, including chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, which harnesses the power of T cells to kill tumor cells," said Louis DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS President and Chief Executive Officer. "Our TAP venture philanthropy initiative is investing in the next generation of immunotherapies to find cancer treatments that are even more effective, safer, longer-lasting, easier to use, and active against more types of cancer."
LLS TAP is a strategic venture philanthropy funding initiative to accelerate high-risk, innovative blood cancer therapeutics and change the standard of care in leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. LLS TAP makes individual investments of up to approximately $10 million and offers insights to funded companies from its extensive knowledge of blood cancer indications, the treatment landscape, and the expertise of LLS staff. LLS TAP due diligence and investment credibility can help companies raise needed funds to drive clinical-focused research forward. Today's investments include three companies that have novel immunotherapies in early human clinical trials and two companies with promising programs in preclinical development for blood cancers:
Caribou Biosciences, Inc, co-founded by CRISPR pioneer and Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., uses next-generation CRISPR genome editing technology, referred to as chRDNA, to develop "off-the-shelf" CAR T-cell therapies for hard-to-treat blood cancers. Off-the-shelf CAR T-cell therapies use healthy donor T cells instead of reengineering a patient's own cells. This approach could make treatment less costly and immediately available to patients with rapidly progressing disease.
The company's lead therapeutic candidate, CB-010, which targets the CD19 protein, is in a phase 1 clinical trial (ANTLER) for treatment of patients with relapsed or refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company is working on additional off-the-shelf CAR T-cell therapies targeting BCMA and CD371 proteins, which play key roles in multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia, respectively. Caribou is also working on adding a CAR to induced pluripotent stem cells to differentiate them into "natural killer" or NK cells to create a new type of immune cell therapy called CAR-NK, which holds promise for the treatment of solid tumors and metastases in addition to blood cancers.
NexImmune, a company that benefitted from an initial TAP investment nearly four years ago and now received a second investment as part of the company's initial public offering, is taking a different approach. The company's Artificial Immune Modulation, or AIM platform, does not rely on genetic manipulation of T cells. Instead, it uses nanoparticles—specific tiny molecules—to directly activate the body's T cells to fight specific types of cancer. The company has two novel products in phase 1 clinical trials; NEXI-001 to treat advanced acute myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome, and NEXI-002 for the treatment of advanced multiple myeloma.
Immune-Onc Therapeutics is developing a novel type of myeloid immune checkpoint inhibitor. Their lead candidate, called IO-202, a first-in-class antibody targeting the immune inhibitory receptor Leukocyte Immunoglobulin-Like Receptor subfamily B (LILRB) member 4 (LILRB4, also knowns ILT3), has entered a phase 1 clinical trial for the treatment of advanced acute myeloid leukemia and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. The company also plans to evaluate this compound in solid tumors soon. The company's work builds on early research by Chengcheng (Alec) Zhang, Ph.D. at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center that was also funded by LLS grants. Checkpoint inhibitors work by 'releasing the brake' from the body's own immune cells so that they can effectively attack cancer cells. In addition to their lead drug candidate, Immune-Onc has active preclinical programs targeting other members of the LILRB family including IO-108, a novel antagonist antibody targeting LILRB2 (also known as ILT4) which is currently in the IND-enabling stage, IO-106, a first-in-class anti-LAIR1 antibody, and other undisclosed programs for solid tumors and blood cancers.
CARISMA Therapeutics is a spin out company from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), founded by Saar Gill, M.D., Ph.D. and Michael Klichinsky, PharmD, Ph.D., SVP of Research. Early work at Penn was supported in part by LLS grants. CARISMA is developing CAR-engineered macrophages, white blood cells that exert broad effects on the immune system, to infiltrate solid tumors, eat away at cancer and activate the adaptive immune system. Based on preclinical studies, the company's highly differentiated CAR-macrophage (CAR-M) platform may have the potential to overcome challenges encountered by other cell therapies such as trafficking limitations to the tumor site, immunosuppressive tumor microenvironments and the heterogeneous expression of tumor-associated antigens. CARISMA is actively enrolling patients for its phase 1 clinical trial for CT-0508, a HER2-targeted CAR-M. CARISMA is also working closely with LLS TAP to develop one or more CAR-M therapies for blood cancers.
Abintus Bio is developing cutting-edge in vivo CAR therapies that allow for powerful CAR T cells to be generated directly in a patient's body, eliminating the need for time-consuming and costly collection, engineering and re-infusion of patient T cells. The innovative Abintus approach aims to reprogram T cells inside the body to attack and eliminate tumors. This technology is currently in preclinical testing and could, if successful, improve patient access with an off-the-shelf profile while advancing patient outcomes.
"Funding from leaders like LLS TAP helps fuel the progress of our clinical development program, bringing next-generation treatments that much closer to patients," said Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Caribou Biosciences. "We're particularly excited to be working with LLS TAP because it gives us access to their deep knowledge of blood cancer and their network of patients and drug development experts."
"The LLS track record in accelerating lifesaving blood cancer treatments is unparalleled," said Lee Greenberger, Ph.D., LLS Chief Scientific Officer. "The continuity of our funding from preclinical through clinical research demonstrates our commitment to supporting innovative therapies as they move from the laboratory into practice."
"Since 2017, three TAP-supported therapies have been approved in the U.S.," added Lore Gruenbaum, Ph.D., VP of TAP. "TAP partnership provides companies with deep blood cancer expertise and increases their credibility with the investment community. We look forward to our ongoing partnerships with these five companies as we work together to provide new hope for patients."
About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® (LLS) is a global leader in the fight against cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world, provides free information and support services, and is the voice for all blood cancer patients seeking access to quality, affordable, coordinated care.
Founded in 1949 and headquartered in Rye Brook, NY, LLS has regions throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit www.LLS.org. Patients should contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
About LLS's Therapy Acceleration Program® (TAP) The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Therapy Acceleration Program is a strategic initiative that builds business alliances and collaborations with biotechnology companies and academic researchers to identify potential breakthrough therapies with the ability to change the standard of care. LLS TAP funds late-stage preclinical studies, and proof of concept or registrational clinical trials to help advance therapeutics along the drug development and approval pathway. LLS TAP accepts funding applications on a rolling basis from companies with innovative science that has a high potential to improve patient lives. To learn more, visit www.LLS.org/therapy-acceleration-program.
Irene Tung Senior Manager, Mission Communications The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society [email protected] (718)-414-7910