Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and accounted for nearly 10 million deaths only in 2020. Besides high mortality, cancer entails extremely poor quality of life for most patients undergoing treatment, who frequently relapse or simply do not respond to the applied therapeutic strategies. As such, cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional, and financial strain on individuals, families, communities, and health systems.
Immunotherapy brought hope to the field, leveraging from the natural and evolutionarily optimised capacity of the immune system to target non-self-bodies (i.e., foreign invaders). However, despite scientific, technological, and clinical advances, these immunotherapeutic approaches, including cancer vaccines, did not meet the set expectations/needs. Up to now, cancer vaccines have not worked well for all tumours and patients as they might induce weak immune responses, thus not preventing tumours from escaping the immune attack. In addition, most cancer vaccines elicit serious immune adverse effects, such as kidney infections as well as liver and endocrine organ failure. Most cancer vaccines are also unsustainable therapies due to the highly costly and complex manufacturing process.
InProTher is a biotechnology company developing the world’s first adaptive immune therapy, designed to target immunosuppressive genes of ancient human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) that normally are silent in the genome. Interestingly, these retroviral genes are reactivated in cancer which makes them ideal antigens for cancer vaccines. Building on this understanding, the BreakImmune® technology was developed to break tolerance to this unique antigen family, this way eliciting a strong and multi-tiered immune response that involves antibody producing B-Cells and mediated T-Cells response towards the specific elimination of cancer cells. This approach, capable of providing broad anti-cancer efficacy, is the result of a series of innovative research projects that first took place at Copenhagen University, and which later motivated the creation of InProTher in 2011.
To date, key published and unpublished pre-clinical studies have already proven BreakImmune®’s efficacy against tumours in mice and its immunogenicity in non-human primates, positioning the technology at TRL5. This leaves InProTher at the stage where the first cancer vaccine (IPT001) is starting to be clinically validated.
Recently, selected among more than 4000 applicants, InProTher secured in total €9.1 million (€2.5 million in grant and €6.6 million in equity investment) from the EIC Accelerator (EICA) programme, through which the European Innovation Council (EIC) and Horizon Europe fund innovative and breakthrough project ideas. This funding is critical to continue BreakImmune®’s clinical validation and to conduct an accelerated multi-indication Phase I/II clinical trial among patients with breast, prostate, pancreatic, and ovarian cancer. Innovayt assisted along the several steps of the EICA application process, allowing InProTher to overcome the high competitiveness of the instrument.
This successful outcome is a replication of past victories and collaborations. For instance, in 2019, Innovayt supported InProTher in securing an Eurostars grant (total grant amounting to €1 million shared between partners) to lead the development of HERV targeted therapeutics, where first data demonstrating elimination of large established cancers and synergy with other immunotherapeutic approaches was obtained. The Eurostars programme is organised by Eureka to support research intensive SMEs in implementing commercially driven R&D projects in international consortia.
Now, by allowing the full development and critical validation of BreakImmune® technology, the recent EICA support will be key to bring these vaccines to market and finally start changing the fate of patients. Besides increasing cure rates, BreakImmune® will also make cancer vaccines accessible for all, reducing the overall burden of cancer on healthcare systems. Lastly, while creating widespread value through the development of an effective and sustainable cancer treatment, InProTher will timely catch a huge business opportunity where immunotherapy seems to be the fastest-growing segment.