More Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Cancer Fight

Immunotherapy, the hot new approach to cancer treatment among small startup biotechs is beginning to establish a base in academia, where lots of low-cost, post-doc and pre-Ph.D. help will be available.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Jones Apparel entrepreneur Sidney Kimmel each offered up $50 million to establish the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University last month. Another dozen or more unnamed supporters pitched in $25 million.

The money will be used to establish interdisciplinary cooperation among scientists at the University, to recruit new scientists and to support immunotherapy-based research in melanoma, colon, lung, breast, pancreatic and ovarian cancers.

The money will be used to establish interdisciplinary cooperation among scientists at the University, to recruit new scientists and to support immunotherapy-based research in melanoma, colon, lung, breast, pancreatic and ovarian cancers.

A somewhat similar program in gene editing established at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia more than a decade ago resulted in the creation of Spark Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ONCE), a public company in my Breakthrough Technology Report portfolio focused on gene editing and hereditary eye diseases.

Almost immediately after the Hopkins announcement, the University of California Berkeley announced the Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative, a partnership with Aduro Biotech (NASDAQ: ADRO), another company in the portfolio. The concept is to mix Aduro’s ongoing research in immunotherapy concepts with Berkeley’s research capabilities.

Aduro will make its unique technology platforms, including LADD and STING pathway activators, and B-select monoclonal antibodies available to the university’s researchers and will support their work with a $7.5 million grant.

Aduro uses attenuated strains of Listeria bacteria as a pathway into the body to create immune responses. The LADD platform is being used against pancreatic, prostate and lung cancers as well as mesothelioma and glioblastoma brain tumors. The STING pathway is designed to activate the intracellular STING receptor, resulting in an immune response specific to certain tumors.

Five years ago, there were about 200 publications of academic research per year in the growing field of immunotherapy. Today, the number exceeds 600.

The director of the new program at Johns Hopkins, Drew Pardoll, boldly predicts that focused research in immunotherapy will advance “to the point where the immune system will ultimately be able to beat 100% of cancers.” The number of cancer researchers making similarly optimistic predictions has grown substantially in the last year.

As a coda to how much attention immunology is getting in academia, the prestigious journal Science is starting up an online journal this summer called Science Immunology and is seeking papers.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning