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Heat Bio's Pelican subsidiary strikes deal with Selexis to advance cancer immunotherapy

Cancer research

Oct, 5 2017, 9:30 AM

Pelican Therapeutics, a subsidiary of Durham-based Heat Biologics Inc., has entered a service agreement with Geneva-based Selexis SA to advance development of Pelican’s cancer-fighting therapy candidates.

Pelican intends to leverage Selexis’ proprietary SUREtechnology platform to rapidly develop high-performance research cell banks expressing two of Pelican’s clinical candidates. Both candidates have the potential to improve clinical response against cancer when used in combination with Heat’s ImPACT therapeutic platform and other immunotherapy drugs.

Selexis says SUREtechnology facilitates the rapid, stable, and cost-effective production of virtually any recombinant protein and integrates bioproduction, spanning discovery to commercialization.

Selexis is part of JSR Corp., which also offers contract development manufacturing organization services via its commercial subsidiary KBI Biopharma. Pelican will also make use of KBI services.

In an interview from his Austin, Texas office, Pelican CEO Rahul Jasuja told the Biotech Center that this is a standard type of service deal for a startup company like Pelican. “A fledgling biotech company outsources this part of the development.”

Preparing for human testing

Pelican will use Selexis for the chemical, manufacturing and control (CMC) development of its two molecules, PTX-35 and PTX-15, as it prepares for its first-in-human clinical trial.

“Selexis has a tested and well-defined platform that is able to optimize the production of cell banks and cell lines for recombinant proteins. They are really good at this stuff,” Jasuja said.

PTX-35, Pelican’s lead product candidate, is a novel monoclonal antibody against TNFRSF25, a so-called co-stimulatory receptor on T cells. The agent provides highly selective and potent stimulation of “memory” CD8+ cytotoxic T cells, a class of T cell that is responsible for eliminating tumor cells in patients.

PTX-35 has the potential to enhance durability of antigen-specific immune responses in combination with other immunotherapies. A long-lasting immune response is important for battling cancer.

Attacking cancer in multiple ways

Up to 70 percent of patients with cancer do not respond to some immunotherapy approaches. “Cancer is smart and has to make your immune system impotent to survive. It uses multiple ways to do that. So we need multiple therapies to get the immune system to attack the cancer,” Jasuja explains.

Both Heat and Pelican are developing multiple synergistic approaches to stimulating patient immune systems to pounce on tumors. “What Heat and Pelican are doing is developing therapies for those patients who don’t respond to current immunotherapy treatments,” Jasuja said.

“It’s challenging, but we’ve made tremendous progress,” he said. “We’re looking for a robust cell line and hope to be in the clinic as soon as we can. We already see tremendous progress in preclinical studies.”

The current timeline is for a clinical trial in late 2018 or early 2019, Jasuaja said.

Pelican, whose laboratory is in San Antonio, was the recipient of a highly competitive $15.2 million New Company Product Development Award from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which should enable the company to advance multiple products through preclinical development and at least one program through a 70-patient Phase 1 clinical trial.

Pelican was acquired by Heat Biologics in March 2017.

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center