Treatment & Doctors

Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer Receives $104M Boost

Written By:
Sep 21, 2012
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Written By: Mark Hall,
September 21, 2012

Software billionaire Dietmar Hopp recently invested nearly $104 million in a biopharmaceutical company working on treatments for non-small cell lung cancer and other diseases.

Hopp, a German business executive, put his money with CureVac, a German-based company developing Phase II cancer therapies.

His investment is notable because of its size, given that CureVac’s research is still in the clinical stages. The money is coming from Hopp’s investment company, dievini Hopp BioTech Holding.

“CureVac’s RNA-technology and products have the potential to create a novel class of therapeutics for the treatment of many different diseases,” said Friedrich von Bohlen, Ph.D, chairman of CureVac’s board of directors. “We see strong market potential which we expect will materialize through continued pipeline development and collaborations in the industry.”

Nearly 160,000 new cases of non-small cell lung cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States.

Non-Traditional Lung Cancer Treatment

CureVac’s treatment method for lung cancer deviates from and compliments traditional approaches because the company uses mRNA vaccines, a modification of the naturally-found biomolecules RNA that can be used for therapeutic purposes.

Hopp’s investment will offer an opportunity for the company to improve testing strategies and development processes of these vaccines.

The company’s vaccines include RNActive and RNAdjuvant, both of which are immunotherapy treatments utilizing RNA technology. Immunotherapy is the manipulation of a person’s immune system to help the body fight disease.

CureVac’s lung cancer vaccine, CV9201, is in Phase II of a clinical trial. It is being tested within non-small cell lung cancer patients who previously received chemotherapy and or radiotherapy.

The company said the vaccine was “safe, well-tolerated and biologically active.”

The attractiveness of immunotherapy as a non-small cell lung cancer treatment appears to be growing. Large pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb are investing significant resources into studies and trials, a switch from the days when doctors questioned the viability of the treatment lung cancer.

Study: Immunotherapy Works for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

A 2012 study involving a meta-analysis of 12 controlled clinical trials affirmed that immunotherapy can work effectively for non-small cell lung cancer, particularly in advanced stages.

CureVac’s benchmarks for its vaccines’ performances are measured according to speed, versatility, flexibility and stability. The company measures analyzes the stability of the targeted antigens, which are foreign substances used to influence the immune system, in addition to the strength of expression of these antigens within the body.

“We have continuously seen strong and consistent data from CureVac’s RNActive and RNAdjuvant programs in the past,” said von Bohlen.

The company is prioritizing the development of its prostate cancer vaccine,  known as CV9103, over its lung cancer therapy vaccine. Still, CureVac remains dedicated to identifying the right treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common type of lung cancer within the United States.

Company representatives anticipate a more-developed version of the non-small cell lung cancer vaccine within the next few years.

Limited Funding for Lung Cancer Research

Despite a longer product roadmap for its lung cancer vaccine, CureVac can leverage its investment to increase research in an area that is notably disenfranchised by limited research funding.

According to the National Lung Cancer Partnership, funding for lung cancer research falls far behind prostate, breast and colorectal cancers, even though the number of deaths from lung cancer exceed the total deaths from all three cancers, combined.

This lack of research funding is evident through the limited progression into treatments for this cancer.

In the early 1970s, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer was approximately 12 percent. Nearly fifty years later, this figure has only increased to 16 percent.

Chart of federal research funding per death

During this same time, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer increased from 75 percent to 90 percent. 

Federal funding per death is lowest for lung cancer compared to breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

The causes of lung cancer, smoking, asbestos and radon exposure, are well-documented, yet a full-comprehension of how the cancer manifests and how to best treat it has eluded researchers for years.

To clarify the magnitude of this cancer, lung cancer deaths account for nearly thirty percent of all cancer deaths.

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