Neon taps lymph delivery specialist Vedantra for cancer vaccine project

Vedantra's tech can deliver neoantigen payloads directly into the lymph nodes.

Immuno-oncology startup Neon Therapeutics has teamed up with Vedantra, a vaccine delivery specialist, to try to add punch to its neoantigen vaccine pipeline.

The R&D collaboration is trying to apply Vedantra's "amphiphile" technology—which can usher molecules directly into the white blood cell-packed lymph nodes in the body by hitching them onto the protein albumin—with Neon's neoantigen expertise.

In the body albumin drains from the blood and tissues into lymph vessels, so the hope is that the delivery system can convey cancer-related neoantigens directly to the antigen-presenting cells and, hopefully, drive strong immune responses to tumors. The research behind the technology platform was developed in the lab of MIT researcher Darrell Irvine, Ph.D., who is founder and a scientific consultant to Vedantra.

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Neoantigens are antigens which are foreign to the body but found in cancer cells, so they can be used to drive the immune system to attack tumors but spare healthy tissue. They are a hot topic in immuno-oncology at the moment, one that helped Fierce 15 company Neon pick up a solid $70 million in series B funding earlier this year.

Neon is due to report results of a phase 1 trial of its lead neoantigen vaccine NEO-PV-01 in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb's checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) in the next few months. It is the first company to partner with Vedantra.

For now the two biotechs—both based in Cambridge, Massachusetts—have not revealed too much information on the nature of their collaboration, other than saying that want to see "what kind of benefits [the combination] can produce in enhancing the body's own immune system to attack and destroy infected and cancerous cells."

Dr. Irvine told FierceBiotech that the amphiphile-vaccine platform has elicited very strong T-cell responses and anti-tumor efficacy in preclinical models of melanoma, HPV-induced cancers, and breast cancer, especially in combination with other relevant immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade. 

"These studies have primarily focused on tumor-associated and viral tumor antigens," he said, adding that the company has also demonstrated that the amphiphile technology promotes lymph node targeting of vaccines in large animals (macaques) similar to small animal mouse models. 

Julian Adams, Ph.D., who joined Vedantra as executive chairman in January having previously served as president of R&D at Infinity Pharmaceuticals, had this to say about the deal: "Although our albumin-binding amphiphile technologies have the potential to be effective at combating cancer by enhancing the body's natural immune responses, our partnership has clear benefits to exploring innovative ways to synergistically enhance both of our programs."

"In addition to the continued development of Vedantra’s therapeutic technologies, we are pleased to move forward on a collaboration that could place both Vedantra and Neon at the forefront of cancer vaccine development," added Adams.