SOTIO AS (Prague) has shown in a Phase 2 trial that its cellular immunotherapy can decrease the risk of a patient dying from ovarian cancer by 62%. The cell therapy was tested in people with the most severe stages of recurrent ovarian cancer, in combination with second-line chemotherapy when cancer returned after a first-line treatment. The trial recruited a total of 71 patients in the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland, according to Labiotech.eu. After 2 years, 73% of those treated with the combination survived, compared to 41% for those treated only with chemotherapy.
The overall survival of the patients increased by 13.4 months when receiving Sotio’s cellular immunotherapy. This immunotherapy makes use of the patient’s own dendritic cells–a kind of immune cell that is responsible for signaling the immune system to attack a threat. The cells are extracted from the patients and exposed to killed ovarian cancer cells. This primes the immune cells against the characteristics of ovarian cancer cells before being returned to the patient.
Following the encouraging results of this Phase 2 study, Sotio is now planning a Phase 3 trial to test the treatment on a larger number of patients across the world. With the first FDA approval of a CAR-T cell therapy just over one year ago, cell therapies that harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer are gaining recognition as an effective treatment for cancer.
Treatments already in the market, like Novartis AG’s (Basel CHE) Kymriah, make use of immune T cells, engineering them to target a specific cancer antigen. With its dendritic cell therapy, Sotio aims to target different kinds of cancer by just changing the type of tumor cells they are exposed to. The company is already testing this approach in prostate and lung cancer.
But Sotio is not the only one seeking to harness dendritic cells against cancer. Companies such as Immunicum AB (Stockholm) in and CiMaas BV (Maastricht) in the Netherlands are developing their own cancer treatments based on these promising immune cells.
While Sotio’s news about a successful Phase 2 for its ovarian cancer cell therapy caught many US-based biotech observers by surprise, there is another mostly overlooked news item from last summer I stumbled upon that is perhaps making even titans Merck and Bristol-Myers a wee bit nervous.
The August, 2018 headline, which didn’t explain much, was “PPF Group and Sotio complete acquisition of Cytune.”
The slightly more detailed introductory paragraph of this the mystery event was Sotio’s announcement that it and “parent PPF Group NV” had completed their acquisition of Cytune Pharma SAS (Nantes FRA).
Under terms of the practically invisible acquisition, Sotio will continue to develop Cytune’s lead pipeline molecule SO-C101 (RLI-15) and intends to initiate first-in-human clinical trials early this year. Sotio is fronting all of privately held investment powerhouse PPF’s activities in the biotech sector and was closely involved in Cytune’s acquisition process. Additionally, all of Cytune’s projects are now being developed as part of Sotio’s pipeline.
“We are excited about the completion of the acquisition and welcome Cytune to the PPF Group. Cytune and Sotio have been closely and very successfully collaborating over the course of the last few years and we very much look forward to initiating the first clinical trials with SO-C101 in a few months,” commented Radek Spisek, CEO of Sotio. “SO-C101 will become a core programme of our pipeline, together with our clinical programmes in ovarian, lung and prostate cancer based on our autologous dendritic cell therapy platform DCVAC.”
David Bechard, president and COO of Cytune said at the time, “I’m proud that our products, originating from INSERM and the University of Nantes and supported by Bpifrance and Atlanpole Biotherapies, hold the potential to lead to new therapeutic options for the treatment of cancer patients. Such IL-2/IL-15Rβγ agonists represent a new and very promising class of drugs in the immune-oncology segment as they have shown to re-induce responses in patients after failure to checkpoint inhibitors treatment.”
Okay, Merck and BMS. Did you hear that? In addition to its ovarian cancer candidate, Sotio is now developing Cytune’s promising cell-therapy approach in a variety of other cancers where your checkpoint inhibitors Keytruda and Opdivo don’t work. And Sotio’s parent, the diversified Amsterdam-based investment conglomerate PPF Group, with some €6.506 billion in annual revenue and total assets of over €38.222 billion, can easily fund the necessary remaining research to bring the two cell treatments all the way through to possible regulatory clearance and eventually commercialization.
You see the point of my little rant. Hiding in plain sight over there in Europe are two potentially explosive cancer treatments that could compete for the many thousands of cancer cases where checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda and Opdivo ultimately don’t work. And that’s far more than half of the total such cases.
It’s my guess that PPF Group is cultivating a diamond in the rough there in Czech Republic, and Sotio may someday bring a fat payday to anyone remotely involved in an investment position with it. With the help of my Berlin-based biotech colleagues at Labiotech.eu, I’ll keep an eye out for any important developments in Prague and Amsterdam. Stay tuned.