Q&A with Immunomic’s Teri Heiland, PhD
What the ‘UNITE’ Technology Platform Could Mean for the Future of Immunotherapy
September 25, 2018
Teri Heiland, Ph.D. is the Senior Vice President of Research and Development, and Co-founder, at Immunomic Therapeutics, Inc., a clinical stage biotechnology company pioneering the study of the LAMP-based nucleic acid immunotherapy platforms.
Dr. Heiland recently participated in a Cancer Immunotherapeutics panel at the Bio+Tech18 Conference in Baltimore. For those who couldn’t make that event, we recently had the opportunity to catch up with her for an interview to dive deeper into their enhanced technology platform, UNITE, and the impact it could have on the success of future immunotherapies in a broad number of illnesses, including cancer, allergy and infectious diseases.
You just rebranded your platform technology this June, what led up to that decision?
[Dr. Heiland] It was more than a rebranding. We began with the first generation of LAMP-vax (lysosomal-associated membrane protein) in our early vaccine work. We still use this as a means to present target antigens to the immune system and it is at the core of our technology. However, we have made substantial improvements to the way we use it, and we have put an increasing focus on the complementary parts of our overall platform: optimal use of adjuvants, advanced antigen selection and optimization, the use of novel delivery methods and the ability to manufacture material at a large scale. Because the name ‘LAMP-vax’ wasn’t really capturing everything that goes into creating our platform, we needed a name that would really emphasize the platform as a whole.
How did you decide on ‘UNITE’ and what is the meaning behind the new branding for you?
[Dr. Heiland] Once the decision was made to rename our platform, the company asked all the employees for suggestions and to submit their ideas. After a few rounds of suggested names and votes, UNITE was selected as the favorite by both our staff and leadership. As fate would have it, it was the name I had submitted. UNITE stands for “UNiversal Intracellular Targeted Expression.” This describes the technology at a high level. Our platform is universal in that it is HLA-independent. Targets are not selected based on a HLA type. This makes our platform different from others. It is Intracellular Targeted Expression because we specifically target Antigen Presenting Cells and the lysosome which leads to an expression of the target in combination with MHC II class on the cell surface. UNITE as a whole refers to our continued optimization of different technologies which can enhance the LAMP-vax platform.
How does UNITE synergize with leading immunotherapies like checkpoint inhibitors to result in a more robust response to cancer?
[Dr. Heiland] Although checkpoint inhibitors have been approved in a number of indications, there is still only a partial response observed in certain patient populations. We believe UNITE can serve as a primer to get the necessary cells into the tumor microenvironment and increase the ability of the checkpoint inhibitor to work. A coordinated effort is going to be required to beat cancer in the long term. We know that a single therapy probably won’t provide the ‘silver bullet,’ but we believe that UNITE will play a fundamental role in immuno-oncology and we are excited to be part of the effort, and most importantly to help patients in need of a lasting solution.
Besides cancer, are there other applications for the UNITE platform?
[Dr. Heiland] When we founded Immunomic Therapeutics, there were early indications that LAMP could be applied in allergic disease. We were able to generate some promising results in our Phase I clinical trial that led to the signing of two exclusive deals with Astellas Pharmaceuticals in 2015. The first was for development and commercialization rights in Japan for ASP4070, an investigational therapy for Japanese Red Cedar allergies. The second agreement gave Astellas exclusive worldwide rights to LAMP-vax™ products for the treatment or prevention of any allergic diseases in humans. Additionally, in December 2016, the FDA granted Fast Track designation for Astellas’ ‘ASP0892,’ a vaccine program based on our platform for the mitigation of severe hypersensitivity reactions due to peanut allergy. ASP0892 is currently in a Phase I clinical trial. Because our technology leverages a fundamental part of our immune system, it has the potential to be therapeutic across a number of diseases.
What excites you most about Immunomic and the work you are doing?
[Dr. Heiland] As one of the founders of Immunomic Therapeutics, I have formed the scientific vision since the company’s beginning. I have enjoyed building and leading a world-class team of talented scientists that bring the UNITE platform to life. But what really excites me is that we have an opportunity to treat diseases, in particular cancer, and bring solutions to people in critical need of new therapies. UNITE has the potential to help patients with diseases that currently have limited treatment options and that’s a great reason to come to work.
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