iTeos is testing its new immunotherapies

August 23rd 2018

iTeos Therapeutics has recently raised 64 million euros from international investors. This will enable the Wallonia-based biotech firm, whose area of speciality is cancer immunotherapy, to create a presence in the United States and to finance the development of the pipeline with the first in the clinic this year, the second in 2019 as well as develop earlier stage assets.

Boston is the Silicon Valley of the pharmaceutical industry. ‘All the main players in the biotech and pharma industries have set up shop there, and so have many investors,’ explains Michel Detheux, CEO of iTeos, who is about to relocate to Massachusetts with his entire family. ‘For those with international ambitions, Boston is the place to be!’?And iTeos has no shortage of ambition! This small Walloon biotech company has a number of new generation immunotherapies in its pipeline. Its goal is to improve on the anti-PD1-L1 and anti-CTLA 4, which are the main immunotherapy drugs currently available in Belgium.

Fighting tumoral resistance

It is worth reminding that immunotherapy is not effective in all patients, with ‘only’ 20 to 50% responding positively to treatment. The cause for this is drugs: in the tumor's micro-environment, they prevent immune cells from functioning properly.
By the end of the year, iTeos will launch a phase 1 clinical trial in order to test an antagonist of the adenosine A2A receptor. What makes this molecule different is its mechanism of action, which is complementary to PD1-L1 and CTLA 4, but also to chemotherapy.

An insurmountable molecule

iTeos isn't alone in exploring this avenue: ‘Our competitors are also working on antagonists of the adenosine receptor,’ explains Michel Detheux. ‘Initially, their molecules were intended to target Parkinson's disease. But there is 15 to 20 times more adenosine in tumors that in the brain! Even increasing the dosage might not be enough. Not to mention secondary effects on the brain… Our antagonist is doubly helpful: it does not get into the brain, and it is insurmountable. This means that no matter how much adenosine is present, our molecule is effective.

A double-edged weapon
Another immunotherapy is in the preclinical phase: an antibody that targets the TIGIT antigen. Once again, iTeos is adopting a different strategy from its competitors. ‘Not only does our antibody bind with TIGIT very effectively—which lets us modulate immunosuppression(2)—, but it can also activate the immune cells that in turn kill cells that express TIGIT. These are cancer cells, and they are especially active in the case of blood cancers.’?The phase 1 trial using this antibody will begin in 2019.

(1) Immunosuppression prevents an immune response.