Neon partners up with CRISPR Therapeutics for I-O work

It’s been a good week for Neon: After posting positive cancer vaccine data a few days ago, the Fierce 15 winner has signed a new R&D pact with gene-editing biotech CRISPR Therapeutics.

In a brief update, the pair said that the “research collaboration [will] explore the combination of each company’s proprietary technologies to develop novel T cell therapies.”

CRISPR, which went public last year, is currently working on early-stage CRISPR/Cas9 technology that could change the way many diseases, from cancer to sickle cell disease are treated, while Neon is working on neoantigen vaccines – a new form of personalized immunotherapy in which antigens that are found in diseased tissues but not normally in healthy patients are used to develop targeted vaccines.

Neon's peptide-based vaccine (NEO-PV-01) is made from up to 20 antigens harvested from patients' own tumor cells, and last week it posted data from a small study of six patients with melanoma who were given the vaccine at around the same time as they underwent surgery to remove the tumor in a bid to prevent recurrence.

More than 70% of the peptides successfully generated measurable immune responses, and after over two years of followup, four of the six patients were recurrence-free.

Cancer vaccines have largely failed to deliver on their early promise in the clinic, but these data, coupled with positive results also coming from an RNA-based vaccine developed by BioNTech last week, has boosted confidence in this research area.

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“Neon Therapeutics is committed to employ leading technologies, including CRISPR/Cas9, to improve the quality of our cell therapy approaches,” said Richard Gaynor, M.D., president of research and development at Neon.

“This collaboration will explore gene-based technologies from CRISPR Therapeutics with our expertise in neoantigen science and T cell biology.”

Back in January, the company also said it raised a chunky $70 million in its series B round, and has also combined its candidate with Bristol-Myers Squibb's checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab); data from that early test should be out before the year’s end.

Samarth Kulkarni, president and chief business officer of CRISPR Therapeutics, added: “We look forward to applying our proprietary CRISPR/Cas9 technologies in a variety of ways to generate potent T cell therapies directed against neoantigens. This collaboration with Neon Therapeutics supplements our internal efforts in immuno-oncology and broadens the spectrum of approaches we are able to explore.”