Immunocore’s T-cell therapy could provide HIV cure

UK-based biotech Immunocore has unveiled a new therapy that reprogrammes the immune system to destroy HIV-infected cells.

The treatment, named ImmTAV (Immune mobilising monoclonal TCRs against virus), is a bi-specific antibody therapy which targets both the CD4 receptor, which often expressed on the surface of latent HIV-infected cells, and the CD3 receptor, which is expressed on the surface of healthy T-cells.

The latest pre-clinical R&D update expands the biotech’s reach. In July 2015, Immunocore secured $320 million in financing to make it the largest private life sciences funding round in Europe at the time. The company’s potential is based on its proprietary ImmTAC (Immune mobilising mTCR against cancer) technology which reprogrammes the immune system to kill cancer cells, as well as bacterially and virally infected cells.

In HIV, the ImmTAV essentially bridges the gap between the two receptors and therefore between HIV-infected cells and healthy T-cells, reactivating the immune system to eradicate latent HIV-infected CD4+ cells – one of the biggest barriers in the creation of a cure for HIV infection.

The company says the ImmTAV works more efficiently than a patients’ own immune response to HIV, because it has been designed to detect very low levels of viral proteins and re-direct them to HIV-infected cells.

“Eliminating HIV from long-lived CD4+ cells, where they remain inaccessible to immune effector cells, is one of the biggest challenges in the search for a cure for HIV,” said Bent Jakobsen, Chief Scientific Officer of Immunocore. “These data help to underscore the broad scope and expandable potential of Immunocore’s expertise in soluble high affinity T cell receptor technology.”

The company has published a paper based on ex vivo studies of the drug candidate. This highlights the treatment’s ability to moderate the killing of HIV-infected cells that present very low levels of the CD4 molecule, as well as its ability to kill HIV-infected T-cells, following the reactivation of latent HIV from patients on antiretroviral therapy.

Immunocore has a portfolio displaying its use in treating cancer, autoimmune diseases and other infectious diseases, and is collaborating with a number of big pharma companies. It has just released data on its lead candidate IMCgp100 at cancer congress ASCO, presenting phase 1 data in patients with melanoma.

With a new, HIV-focused version of its therapy, Immunocore expands its existing portfolio, and could become a competitor in the hunt for the long-sought-after cure for HIV.

Other companies pursuing drug candidates to cure HIV include virology giant Gilead and French biotech firm Abivax.

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