Sean Parker’s I/O group teams up with CRI for cancer neoantigens R&D deal

Facebook and Napster billionaire Sean Parker has seen his Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy join forces with the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) to work on boosting personalized medicine.

The new collab is specifically focused on neoantigens, a type of therapy that is a burgeoning field in cancer research right now, with many seeking to develop personalized therapeutic cancer vaccines that use unique neoantigens—antigens which are foreign to the body, found in cancer—that can be used to spur a specific immune system attack tailored to the individual patient.

In a statement, the Parker Institute says: “Because these tumor markers are both specific to each individual and unlikely to be present on normal healthy cells, neoantigens represent an optimal target for the immune system and make possible a new class of highly personalized vaccines with the potential for significant efficacy with reduced side effects.”

The deal, which has been dubbed TESLA (the Tumor neoantigEn SeLection Alliance), includes 30 of the world’s leading cancer neoantigen research groups from both academia and industry.

Its goal is to help these groups and companies test and improve the algorithms they use to analyze tumor DNA and RNA sequences, in turn better predicting the neoantigens that should be seen on each patient’s cancer, and therefore most visible to the immune system.

Sage Bionetworks has also been tapped to help manage the bioinformatics and data analysis for this purpose.

In its early days, it will focus on advanced melanoma, colorectal cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, but over time, the initiative “will seek to broaden the relevance of neoantigen vaccines to a wide range of cancers.”

“Bringing together the world’s best neoantigen research organizations to accelerate the discovery of personalized cancer immunotherapies is exactly the type of bold research collaboration that I envisioned when launching the Parker Institute,” said Parker.

“This alliance will not only leverage the immense talents of each of the researchers but will also harness the power of bioinformatics, which I believe will be critical to driving breakthroughs.”

A number of academic groups have signed up with TESLA, those from the biopharma industry including: Advaxis, Agenus, Amgen, BioNTech, Bristol-Myers Squibb; Genentech, MedImmune, Neon Therapeutics and Personalis.

Neoantigens loomed large last year, drawing the attention of Moderna and biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, who spent $50 million to buy control of Precision Biologics, which is also working on neoepitopes.

And it has continued this year, as back in May two West Coast cancer immunotherapy biotechs, Immune Design and upstart Gritstone Oncology, signed a research collab combining both companies’ leading immuno-oncology tech, with the goal of developing neoantigen-based immunotherapies.

In October, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and London investment firm Syncona also joined forces to fund and launch a new neoantigen-focused lung cancer biotech Achilles Therapeutics.

Third Rock startup, and Fierce 15 winner, Neon Therapeutics and its lead neoantigen candidate NEO-PV-01 has also recently allied with Bristol-Myers Squibb and its marketed PD-1 drug Opdivo (nivolumab) in a Phase Ib program, which will explore safety and look for early proof-of-concept data on melanoma, smoking-associated non-small cell lung cancer and bladder cancer.