Boehringer Ingelheim and Enara Bio in Cancer Pact

25.01.2021 - German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim and UK biotech Enara Bio have agreed to collaborate on the research and development of novel targeted cancer immunotherapies, leveraging Enara Bio’s proprietary Dark Antigen Platform Technology (EDAPT).

The companies aim to discover and validate novel dark antigens in up to three tumor types in lung and gastrointestinal cancers. The discovery of shared antigens could lead to the development of vaccines that can be readily used to help a broader group of cancer patients, Boehringer Ingelheim said.

Dark antigens are a new class of cancer-associated antigens that derive from the portion of the human genome that is normally not expressed as protein. Dark antigen-encoding sequences are usually silenced in healthy cells but are activated and presented on tumor cells. They are also associated with specific cancer types and shared across patients.

“We are advancing a unique pipeline of cancer cell-directed agents, immuno-oncology therapies and intelligent combination approaches to help combat cancer,” said Jonathon Sedgwick, senior vice president and global head, cancer immunology & immune modulation research at Boehringer Ingelheim.

“Enara Bio’s unique discovery platform offers a novel and highly differentiated approach that will allow us to look beyond the known proteome to identify and characterize dark antigens to support the development of T-Cell Receptor (TCR)-directed immunotherapies and therapeutic vaccines.” Sedgwick said. “We believe this is a highly innovative and promising approach to the development of the next wave of cancer immunotherapies.”

Under the terms of the deal, Enara Bio is eligible to receive an undisclosed sum upfront, along with research/preclinical milestones and licensing fees for each tumor type that is explored. The biotech is also eligible to receive more than $876 million in clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones, plus royalties on future sales.

Enara Bio’s president and CEO Kevin Pojasek said the partnership is its first major deal for its dark antigen capabilities. The company was founded in late 2016 as Ervaxx, initially focusing on developing therapeutic cancer vaccines using novel antigens derived from endogenous retroviral DNA sequences.

It then broadened its focus to include TCR-based immunotherapies and in January 2020, in-licensed patents covering T cells and TCRs reactive to cancer-specific antigens and ligands from Cardiff University. Subsequently, in June 2020, and to reflect its expanded discovery and development strategy, Ervaxx changed its name to Enara Bio.

For Boehringer Ingelheim, the collaboration marks another step toward building a cancer vaccine platform. The family-owned pharma said the past acquisitions of ViraTherapeutics and Amal Therapeutics’ vaccine modalities coupled with Enara Bio’s capabilities position it to develop sophisticated virus and vaccine approaches for its prime/boost vaccine platform.

Boehringer Ingelheim acquired Swiss biotech Amal Therapeutics in July 2019 and Austrian biopharma ViraTherapeutics in September 2018.

Author: Elaine Burridge, Freelance Journalist