JHU research led to a breakthrough for allergy vaccines. Now they're taking aim at cancer - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 11, 2015 10:44 am

JHU research led to a breakthrough for allergy vaccines. Now they’re taking aim at cancer

Immunomic Therapeutics has figured out a way to vaccinate against allergies. After licensing the technology to a Japanese firm, the company is moving on to cancer.

Immunomic Therapeutics and JHU reps celebrated their licensing deal on Tuesday.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Johns Hopkins tech transfer is at the heart of a new agreement meant to bolster the development of a DNA-based vaccine for allergies.

Formally, Rockville-based Immunomic Therapeutics inked a licensing deal with Astellas Pharma, which will develop the allergy vaccine. Through the deal, Immunomic will receive an upfront payment of $300 million, and is entitled to 10 percent royalties from vaccine products developed. Astellas, a Japan-based pharmaceutical giant, gets the right to produce the vaccine worldwide.

On Tuesday night, officials from Immunomic and Johns Hopkins celebrated the deal at Johns Hopkins’ FastForward East incubator.

The science behind that deal is thought to be potentially game-changing for DNA vaccines, and was developed at Johns Hopkins. Led by Dr. Tom August, the research developed a way to inject the DNA encoding a protein, rather than the protein itself. That allows the treatment to use the body’s natural antibodies to activate a full immune response.

The vaccine is believed to have implications for cancer when combined with other vaccine efforts, August said.

About nine years ago, however, Immunomic Therapeutics licensed the technology. At first, they focused specifically on food allergies due to the challenge they present in modern medicine. From 1997-2011, there was a 50 percent increase in food allergies in U.S. children. In Japan, more than a quarter of the population has allergies to pollen from the red cedar tree, which was planted widely following World War II. Early studies show that the company’s LAMP-Vax was effective 100 percent of the time in immunizing against the red cedar tree allergy.

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Those trials took about a year, capping off what officials said was a surprisingly smooth process.

“It’s not often in science that you pick something, run with it and it works,” said Immunomic CEO William Hearl.

Now that it has the rights, Astellas will further research the allergy vaccine. They have an eye toward an antidote for a peanut allergy within 5-8 years.

For its part, Immunomic will turn toward another challenge: developing LAMP-vax for cancer.

“What we’re trying to do is find the Japanese red cedar of cancer,” Hearl said. “We’re looking for a cancer application that is an unmet medical need that has a short time window for clinical studies.”

By short time window, Hearl clarified that about two years is realistic.

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