Hookipa tasks DarwinHealth with finding shared tumor antigens

Hookipa Pharma has teamed up with DarwinHealth to identify shared self-antigens for multiple tumor subtypes. The collaboration is expected to yield antigens with validated immunogenicity that Hookipa can use as the basis for immunotherapies.

Austria-based Hookipa is developing anti-cancer immunotherapies based on TheraT, a platform that uses an attenuated replicating arenavirus to trigger T cell responses. By triggering the responses, Hookipa thinks it can turn cold tumors hot, increasing the number of cancers that are susceptible to immuno-oncology drugs.

The success of the strategy rests, in part, on Hookipa’s access to antigens. And having reviewed the landscape, the biotech has identified this core resource as a bottleneck to the advance of the field of antigen-specific immunotherapy. 

“The current group of shared tumor self-antigens has been established for many years, and while more recent efforts have been aimed at identifying patient-specific neo-antigens, systematic attempts to identify the next generation of tumor self-antigens have not been pursued as aggressively,” Hookipa CMO Igor Matushansky said in a statement.

Hookipa plans to address the shortfall in tumor self-antigens by working with DarwinHealth, a company that uses algorithms to match patients to the drugs most likely to yield positive outcomes. DarwinHealth’s work in the area has led it to develop techniques for identifying human, cryptic immunogenic transcripts.

Over the next two years, DarwinHealth will use bioinformatics and single-cell transcriptome analysis to identify shared tumor-specific antigens in cancerous and non-cancerous tissues from humans and mice. Hookipa will then perform validation experiments on DarwinHealth’s crypto-antigens.

If the antigens pass the validatory tests, Hookipa will try to develop antigen-specific, vector-mediated immunotherapies based on them and its TheraT platform. Hookipa will have the exclusive right to develop, manufacture and commercialize these candidates. 

The deal with DarwinHealth comes almost one year after Hookipa raised $60 million (€53 million). The series C round teed up Hookipa to take its lead TheraT-based candidate HB-201 into the clinic in patients with HPV-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. HB-201 targets fusion protein E7E6.