Genentech oncology exec jumps to Replimune to get cancer-killing meds to market

Sushil Patel, Ph.D., the Genentech executive who led the development of Tecentriq in lung cancer, is turning his focus to oncolytic, or cancer-killing, viruses. He joins Replimune, a biotech working on treatments designed not just to replicate within tumors and kill them, but also boost the effects of checkpoint inhibitors like Tecentriq. 

Patel held numerous roles over his long career at Genentech. Besides leading the development of Tecentriq in lung cancer, Patel served as global oncology franchise head for lung cancer, skin cancer and rare/agnostic tumor types and as the franchise head for global product strategy. 

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He will start as Replimune’s chief commercial officer in a couple of weeks, where he will take the lead on the company's “go to market” strategy and prepare for its first drug launch. Replimune's lead program, RP1, is in registrational trials in patients with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, the second-most common form of skin cancer, and patients with melanoma for whom PD-1 blockers did not work. 

“Replimune’s broad pipeline of oncolytic immuno-gene therapies could become the next cornerstone of immuno-oncology treatment regimens,” Patel said in a statement. “With RP1 in two registration-directed trials in CSCC and melanoma, it is now time to build an innovative and comprehensive commercial strategy and assemble a world-class team to advance these first-in-class therapies to patients.” 

And he’s in good company. Replimune CEO Robert Coffin, Ph.D., and many of his colleagues developed Imlygic, the first and only approved oncolytic virus. The BioVex team brought the treatment through phase 3 before selling their company to Amgen for $1 billion. 

With its oncolytic immunotherapies, Replimune aims to ramp up a patient’s immune response to cancer, both at the site of the tumor and throughout the body. They are based on a herpes simplex virus platform and are engineered with genes aimed at boosting cancer cell killing to promote an anti-tumor immune response. 

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Injected directly into tumors, oncolytic viruses are designed to replicate only inside cancer cells, bringing about their death. This process releases tumor antigens that activate a local immune response, as well as a systemic one, in which T cells hunt down and destroy cancer cells throughout the body. 

Replimune's treatments are being tested in a variety of cancers, alone and in combination with PD-1 inhibitors, such as Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo and Regeneron and Sanofi’s Libtayo. Construction on a GMP manufacturing site is complete, which will produce the treatments for late-stage development and commercialization, the company said earlier this year in its third-quarter earnings release.