Exploring immuno-oncology potential
BOSTON & SURESNES, France—An alliance between two international pharmaceutical companies strives to capitalize on complementary specialties to develop bispecific immuno-oncology therapeutic programs. Pieris Pharmaceuticals Inc., a clinical-stage biotechnology company advancing novel biotherapeutics through its proprietary Anticalin technology platform, and Servier, an independent international pharmaceutical company, recently announced a broad collaboration in immuno-oncology (IO). Their primary goal of the collaboration aims to make significant advances in the clinical efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors, a promising area of oncological research.
The immune system utilizes an army of T cells that comb the body for signs of infection, and react to the presence of abnormal proteins with a cellular attack. One of cancer’s main defenses against this immune system defense is its ability to mask a tumor cell with proteins from a normal cell by using immune checkpoint molecules to evade the human immune system.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs—often made of antibodies—that unleash an immune system attack on cancer cells. They block these normal proteins on cancer cells, or the proteins on T cells that respond to them. The result is to remove the blinders that prevented T cells from recognizing the cells as cancerous and leading an immune system assault on them.
While checkpoint inhibition has shown significant promise, current approved therapies have failed to yield widespread success. The Pieris-Servier collaboration aims to address this significant unmet need by advancing a multiple dual immune checkpoint blockade approach.
Pieris’ multispecific technology allows simultaneous checkpoint inhibition on the same cell, which could have a clear advantage over monoclonal antibody cocktails against different checkpoint targets. PRS-332 is a novel PD-1-based bispecific, comprising an anti-PD-1 antibody genetically linked to an Anticalin protein targeting an undisclosed checkpoint target. Pieris has developed PRS-332, which is currently in preclinical development, with the intent to simultaneously block two immune checkpoints co-expressed on exhausted T cells to further improve on existing PD-1 therapies.
Servier, meanwhile, brings the resources of an international pharmaceutical company to the partnership. They currently have nine molecular entities in oncology development, targeting breast and lung cancers, and other solid tumors, as well as various leukemias and lymphomas.
“Servier has built a diversified and innovative portfolio in oncology that includes small molecules, engineered antibodies, and cell therapies for the treatment of both hematological malignancies and solid tumors,” says Dr. Emmanuel Canet, president of Servier R&D.
The initial collaboration entails Pieris and Servier jointly pursuing five bispecific therapies, with Pieris’ PRS-332 checkpoint inhibitor leading the program. The two companies will combine resources to further develop PRS- 332, which has shown significant promise in targeting PD-1, a checkpoint protein on T cells that helps keep them from attacking other cells in the body. In addition, they will combine antibodies from Servier’s catalog with Pieris proteins to generate innovative IO-related bispecific drug candidates.
“Servier is a highly complementary partner for Pieris, with a very clear commitment to oncology and outstanding development capabilities,” stated Dr. Louis Matis, senior vice president and chief development officer of Pieris. “The synergies of building unique bispecifics from Servier’s antibodies and Pieris’ Anticalin proteins are multifold, as the versatility of our platform allows for extensive combinatorial target opportunities with the numerous IO ‘building blocks’ our team has discovered to date.”
“This alliance will significantly enhance Servier’s portfolio in immuno-oncology, which already comprises five products in late preclinical or early development. Servier’s recognized expertise in drug development will efficiently complement Pieris’ innovative technology, allowing both companies to bring innovative solutions to cancer patients,” stated Dr. Jean-Pierre Abastado, director of oncology research and development at Servier.
“Our alliance with Servier is clearly a transformative one for Pieris and is the type of partnership we deliberately set out to achieve to create significant long-term value. This collaboration provides not only an opportunity to advance multiple programs with retained rights in the number one oncology market, but also provides significant funding and flexibility for Pieris to balance financial and operational resources as we enter the next stage of corporate development,” stated Stephen Yoder, president and CEO of Pieris. “The Servier alliance will act as a significant building block of our pipeline expansion in immuno-oncology and demonstrates the value of our proprietary Anticalin drug class.”