Argos Therapeutics sees new promise for Immunotherapeutics
DURHAM, NC (May 1, 2009), By Allan Maurer — Argos Therapeutics believes the success of Seattle-based Dendreon Corp.'s Phase 3 study of immunotherapy PROVENGE, which significantly prolonged the survival of patients with advanced prostate cancer, points out the potential for immunotherapeutics such as its own to tackle cancer and HIV.
New therapies that attempt to bring the immune system to bear on cancer and infections offer real promise in the fight against many of the deadliest maladies.
Argos acquired its original dendritic cell technology from Duke University and Rockefeller University and has significantly improved it. It based on optimizing a patient's own dendritic cells—the most potent stimulators of the immune system—to trigger a patient-specific immune response. They "program" the cells to recognize the patient's specific cancer or virus.
The result is a specifically personalized immunotherapy.
Company CEO John Bonfiglio tells TechJournal South, that the Argos Arcelis platform technology "Can treat cancers or infections of any type. We use the patient's own tumor or virus to present to the immune system.
The company is currently in Phase 2 trials in combination with a Pfizer drug against renal cell cancer. Bonfiglio notes that the immune system in renal cancer patients is so profoundly depressed by the disease that they can't produce an immune response against flu or bacterial infections.
"After we treat the patient," he says, "we not only observe activity against the disease, we also restore their ability to respond to flu antigens."
It is also conducting trials of its Arcelis HIV program.
He also explains that a personalized approach to bringing the immune system to bear on cancers and HIV is necessary because due to mutations in viruses or tumor antigens, "The immune therapy needs to be perfectly matched to the patient's disease characteristics."
HIV, for instance, "Is so mutagenic that every possible mutation in every possible location on the genome occurs every day. There is more diversity in a single patient with HIV than an entire season of flu virus mutations."
That's why so many attempts to make an HIV vaccine have failed. A treatment has to be perfectly matched to a patient's own swarm of viruses. Argos believes a highly targeted therapy is the only way to hit a patient's entire viral load. "You have to engineer the treatment for it to be effective in that particular environment," says Bonfiglio.
Originally founded in 1997 as Merix Bioscience, the 68-employee company changed its name to Argos Therapeutics in 2004. It raised a $35.2 million round last year.
Investors in the company include ABN AMRO Capital; The Aurora Funds; CDP Capital Technology Ventures; GeneChem; Intersouth Partners; Kirin Brewery Company Limited, Pharmaceutical Division; MDS Capital; TFG Capital AG; TVM Capital, Forbion Capital Partners, and Lumira Capital, Capital, Morningside Group and Japan Asia Investment Co.
It has also raised more than $70 million in non-dilutive cash from licensing and partnership deals with major pharmaceutical companies such as Japan's Kirin Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson and others.
Bonfiglio says the company has enough cash to get it through most of next year and it will move forward from there based on results from its current clinical trials.
"In combination with things such as the recent news from Dendreon, we think cell therapy is going to find a place in treating patients. The best way to deal with some of these diseases is through the immune system and we have the best methodology."