Immunicum Announces Collaboration with Merck KGaA and Pfizer to Evaluate Cell Therapy Treatment in Combination with Avelumab

November 16, 2018

Immunicum will initiate a study of ilixadencel in the fourth quarter of 2018. Following completion of the Ib portion of the study, a Phase II study will be conducted using the checkpoint inhibitor avelumab in combination with ilixadencel to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the combination in patients with advanced head and neck cancer and gastric adenocarcinoma. Immunicum will be responsible for conducting the study and continues to retain all commercial rights to ilixadencel.

"Building on our progress with avelumab as a monotherapy, our key focus is to evaluate the potential of combination therapy in the treatment of solid tumors," said Kevin Chin, Vice President, Global Clinical Development, Immuno-Oncology at the biopharma business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, which in the US and Canada operates as EMD Serono. "We believe the next wave of innovation is with combination approaches to support patients with hard-to-treat cancers."

Ilixadencel, a cell therapy product, is an off-the-shelf cancer immune primer, developed for the treatment of solid tumors. Its active ingredient is activated allogeneic dendritic cells, derived from healthy blood donors. Intratumoral injection of these cells generates an inflammatory response which in turn leads to tumor-specific activation of the patient's cytotoxic T-cells.

Avelumab is a human anti-programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) antibody. Avelumab has been shown in preclinical models to engage both the adaptive and innate immune functions. By blocking the interaction of PD-L1 with PD-1 receptors, avelumab has been shown to release the suppression of the T cell-mediated antitumor immune response in preclinical models. Avelumab has also been shown to induce NK cell-mediated direct tumor cell lysis via antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC) in vitro. In November 2014, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and Pfizer announced a strategic alliance to co-develop and co-commercialize avelumab.

Avelumab is currently being evaluated in the JAVELIN clinical development program, which involves at least 30 clinical programs, including eight Phase III trials, and more than 9,000 patients across more than 15 different tumor types. Avelumab has received accelerated approval** by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma.

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