by Mary Romeo, Staff Writer – Elicio launched Wednesday with $30 million in funding and an immunotherapy strategy aimed at getting cancer vaccines into the lymph nodes, a location that orchestrates immune responses but has been hard to target directly.
Elicio Therapeutics (Cambridge, Mass.) has exclusively licensed the Amphiphile platform from Darrell Irvine at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Irvine’s group figured out in 2014 how to ferry cancer vaccines into lymph nodes by tethering the vaccines to albumin to “hitchhike” on the carrier’s normal transportation route (see “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Lymph Node“).
Irvine’s group noticed that albumin effectively carried dyes and other compounds into the lymph nodes. In preclinical studies, the team showed that by conjugating vaccines to an albumin-binding lipid tail, tumor-targeting antigens and adjuvants elicited strong immune responses and slowed or reduced tumor growth in mice.
Elicio’s lead candidates from the Amphiphile platform will target pancreatic, colorectal and head and neck cancers. CEO Robert Connelly told BioCentury that Elicio is developing cancer vaccines with a range of different types of shared antigens, including viral antigens.
Connelly said the antigens Elicio is using “have only been delivered systemically, not directly to the lymph nodes,” which results in weak immune responses and occasional systemic toxicity. “This is why cancer vaccines have been disappointing to date,” he added.
Elicio plans to begin a Phase I/II trial in early 2020 of VED-002, a vaccine targeting KRAS mutations, to treat pancreatic cancer. Its second candidate, VED-001, is a vaccine targeting HPV E6 and E7 transforming proteins. It is set to enter the clinic in 2020 as a single agent and in combination with a checkpoint inhibitor for HPV-positive head and neck cancers.
Connelly declined to disclose the company’s investors.
Connelly was previously a venture partner at Flagship Pioneering and has served as CEO of multiple companies, including pulmonary disease company Pulmatrix Inc. (NASDAQ:PULM) from 2007 to 2012 and metabolic dysregulation company Axcella Health Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) from 2013 to 2018.
Irvine is a professor of materials science and engineering and of biological engineering at MIT.
Targets: E6 transforming protein (Human papillomavirus-16) – HpV16gp1; E7 transforming protein (Human papillomavirus-16) – HpV16gp2; KRAS – K-Ras