On the importance of being translational: Oncology biotech

17 June 2019
The VIB Discovery Sciences team bridges the gap between academic research and product development. Translating novel targets, emerging from research of VIB research groups into promising projects of drug-development and agro-biotech innovations is its core business. And the team proves to be successful. Time to present this established track record through three novel collaboration models. The very first model in the field of immuno-oncology is clarified by Jean Feyen, chief scientific officer at Oxurion and Bruno Dombrecht, who joined the Discovery Sciences team in2018 and specializes in therapeutic biologics. 

Oncology biotech
A clear and confident press release on September 1st, 2017 announced the acquisition by Oncurious, a Belgium-based biotech company, of a unique portfolio of next-generation immune-oncology assets from VIB. The exclusive licenses regarded five unique next generation immuno-oncology assets, based on seminal work originating from the labs of Massimiliano Mazzone and Gabriele Bergers (VIB-KU Leuven Center
for Cancer Biology), and from the VIB-VUB lab of Jo Van Ginderachter (VIB Center for Inflammation Research).

Oncurious thus broadened its ongoing clinical development activities in orphan pediatric oncology indications with preclinical research and drug development programs, resulting in an exciting pipeline of next-generation immuno-oncology drugs targeting a broad spectrum of cancers.

“I believe that the possibility to launch a drug discovery program on targets that are so complementary, will give VIB and Oncurious a prominent position in the field of immune-oncology having the advantage to test novel combinations that trigger anti-cancer immunity by tacking the problem from diverse angles.”  - Massimiliano Mazzone​​

The acquisition of this portfolio by Oncurious was the result of an intense, constructive collaboration?
Jean: “Yes, indeed. Oxurion, formerly Thrombogenics, with its expertise in drug development teamed up with
VIB. They both are the founding partners of Oncurious, in what basically can be described as an innovative
model of company co-creation. With Oncurious we created a strong and solid research and development
team with an extensive track record in drug discovery and development.”

Bruno: “In essence it is a dedicated trust-built partnership and we are primarily capitalizing on synergies by combining the strengths of VIB research groups, VIB Discovery Sciences and Oxurion. It  definitely all starts with the science. But the excellence in oncology and immunology of the VIB research groups joins forces with the expertise in multi-specific biologic drug discovery and immuno-oncology of the VIB Discovery Sciences team. At that team we also have easy access to VIB Core Facilites and other inhouse technological expertise. At Oxurion on the other hand, we can rely on trusted experience in preclinical and clinical development and on bringing a product from the research bench to the market. It all adds up.”

What is the current status of the immuno-oncology drug discovery pipeline?
Jean: “We are currently in a phase 1/2a clinical trial evaluating TB-403 (against placental growth factor)
for relapsed medulloblastoma with the support of the US Consortium Beat Childhood Cancer. Initial data of this trial are anticipated towards the end of 2019. The orphan designation in the EU is approved, in the US the application is pending. And obviously we are developing the pipeline of 5 next-generation immuno-oncology compounds targeting a broad spectrum of cancers.”

The partnership of Oncurious and VIB to solidify several novel and innovative targets in the competitive immune-oncology arena is unique as it enables a valuable flexibility to complement and combine strategies ancillary to generate potent next-generation drugs in immunooncology.” - Gabriele Bergers

Bruno: “From a statistical perspective, the success rate of new medicines is extremely low. But at the Discovery Sciences team we help reduce the scientific and financial risks that usually come with  drug development funding. As a matter of fact, we can stay under the radar and that provides us with extra
advantages versus the more conventional models in biotech collaboration. We collaborate in a lean and integrated manner with a light and flexible governance, we have early access to breakthrough science, we rely on the VIB network of technology and expertise and our company partners have lower upfront investments in infrastructure and know-how than other industry start-ups. In other words, we are extremely focused on protecting and maturing innovative drug concepts.”

The decision of Oncurious to engage in drug discovery against targets that are still relatively early in the validation process, is rather exceptional. It can bring both Oncurious and VIB in pole position to deliver the next generation immuno-oncology drugs that may be complementary to the well-known immune checkpoint blockers.” - Jo Bury

What are the ambitions of Oncurious for further growth?
Jean: “We hope to bring Oncurious to the point of being a solid stand-alone biotech company in Flanders thanks to our novel collaboration model. At the moment, we are co-creating and developing Oncurious’s preclinical drug discovery pipeline. Oncurious will leverage the expected in vivo proofof- concepts from this collaboration to attract additional funding, either by out-licensing or round A investments. Over time, Oncurious will take on full responsibility for these assets as a fully-funded standalone biotech company.”

Bruno: “Creating Flanders-anchored biotech companies certainly is one of our targets. But being close to the source of scientific breakthroughs and immediately translating these into drug candidates creates a high societal impact as well and that is of course equally rewarding.”

Go back to the overview: 'VIB Discovery Sciences'​​


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Bruno Dombrecht, Jean Feyen​
©VIB-Ine Dehandschutter