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FREMONT, Calif., Sept. 04, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc. (NYSE American: AST), a biotechnology company dedicated to developing cellular immunotherapies to treat cancer and cell-based therapeutics to treat neurological conditions associated with demyelination, today announced that the Safety Review Committee (SRC) for the first clinical trial of VAC2 has held its second scheduled meeting to review the safety and tolerability data generated in patients two and three enrolled in the study and recommended continuation of the study and moving to open enrollment in the advanced disease cohort (Arm A), as planned per the study’s protocol. This initial clinical trial, which is being sponsored, managed and funded by Cancer Research UK, will examine the safety and tolerability of VAC2 in NSCLC as the study’s primary endpoints. Secondary and tertiary endpoints of the study include evaluations of the immunogenicity of VAC2 in NSCLC.
"We are encouraged that VAC2 was found to be safe and well-tolerated in all three patients and are enthusiastic for Cancer Research UK to begin open enrollment of the advanced disease cohort,” commented Dr. Edward Wirth, Chief Medical Officer of Asterias Biotherapeutics. “Cancer Research UK recently opened a second site in Birmingham, England to support enrollment and we are pleased with how the study is progressing.”
The Safety Review Committee has now reviewed accumulated safety data generated to date for the first three patients in the advanced disease cohort. Each patient has now received all six weekly doses of 10 million VAC2 cells per protocol.
As specified in the VAC2 clinical trial protocol, the Safety Review Committee meets on a dosing-driven basis to review safety and tolerability data from the ongoing trial. The Committee is comprised of a group of medical and scientific experts and is responsible for reviewing and evaluating patient safety data in order to safeguard the wellbeing of trial participants.
VAC2 is an innovative immunotherapy product that contains mature dendritic cells derived from pluripotent stem cells. These non-patient specific (allogeneic) VAC2 cells are engineered to express a modified form of telomerase, a protein widely expressed in tumor cells, but rarely found in normal cells. The modified form of telomerase invokes enhanced stimulation of immune responses to the protein. Similar to an earlier, Asterias-sponsored, hematological cancer program using an autologous approach, the VAC2 dendritic cells instruct the immune system to generate responses against telomerase and, through this mechanism, target tumor cells. VAC2’s mode of action is complementary to and potentially synergistic with other immune therapies such as checkpoint inhibitors or other immune pathway inhibitors.
About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and the VAC2 Trial
Lung cancer (both small cell and non-small cell) is the leading cause of cancer-related death, accounting for about one-quarter of all cancer deaths and more than colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for about 80% to 85% of lung cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. The three main types of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for lung cancer in the United States for 2017 are: about 222,500 new cases of lung cancer, and about 155,870 deaths from lung cancer. Despite the large number of people afflicted by non-small cell lung cancer, patients remain vastly underserved due to a scarcity of effective treatments. According to statistics published by Cancer Research UK, the five year survival rate for lung cancer patients in England and Wales is less than 10%.
As currently designed, the first VAC2 clinical trial will enroll up to 24 subjects into one of two cohorts, depending on the stage of their non-small cell lung cancer. The first cohort will evaluate VAC2 in up to 12 subjects with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. Subjects in this cohort, who carry the major histocompatibility gene, HLA-A2, will receive six weekly injections of VAC2 and will be followed for safety, immune responses to telomerase and overall clinical survival. These survival results will be compared directly to a control group who meet all of the other inclusion/exclusion criteria but do not possess the HLA-A2 gene. Assuming safety is demonstrated in the first cohort, enrolment will advance to a second cohort. In the second cohort, early stage subjects who have had successful resection of their tumour with no evidence of metastasis will be enrolled. Up to 12 subjects in this second cohort who carry the major histocompatibility allele HLA-A2 will receive six, weekly injections of VAC2 and will be followed for safety, immune responses to telomerase, overall clinical survival and time to relapse. These survival results will again be compared directly to a control group who meet all of the inclusion/exclusion criteria of cohort 2 but are not HLA-A2+. Subjects will be followed for one year for immune response to telomerase and for 2 years for the survival endpoints. The supply of VAC2 to be used in this trial is being manufactured by Cancer Research UK’s Biotherapeutics Development Unit. Asterias and Cancer Research UK are exploring the combination of VAC2 with an immune pathway inhibitor.
About Asterias Biotherapeutics
Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc. is a biotechnology company dedicated to developing cell-based therapeutics to treat neurological conditions associated with demyelination and cellular immunotherapies to treat cancer. Asterias is presently focused on advancing two clinical-stage programs which have the potential to address areas of very high unmet medical need in the fields of neurology and oncology. OPC1 (oligodendrocyte progenitor cells) is currently in a Phase 1/2a dose escalation clinical trial in spinal cord injury. VAC2 (antigen-presenting allogeneic dendritic cells) is an allogeneic cancer immunotherapy. The Company's research partner, Cancer Research UK, has commenced a first-in-human clinical trial of VAC2 in non-small cell lung cancer. Asterias is also sponsoring pre-clinical work in two conditions with a demyelinating component: Multiple Sclerosis and White Matter Stroke, and is evaluating other cancer indications where its immunotherapy platform could provide therapeutic benefit. Additional information about Asterias can be found at www.asteriasbiotherapeutics.com.
About Cancer Research UK’s Clinical Development Partnerships
Cancer Research UK’s Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) is an initiative that aims to develop promising anti-cancer agents from companies that are not able to take them through early phase clinical trials themselves. Under the scheme, Cancer Research UK sponsors and funds early clinical development, while companies retain all underlying rights to their programmes. At the end of the study, companies can decide if they wish to develop the drug further based on the clinical trial results. If they choose not to, the charity may secure an alternative partner and ensure the drug has every possible chance of reaching patients, with a share of future income returned to Cancer Research UK.
About Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development
Cancer Research UK has an impressive record of developing novel treatments for cancer. The Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development, formerly the Drug Development Office, has been pioneering the development of new cancer treatments for 25 years, taking over 140 potential new anti-cancer agents into clinical trials in patients. It currently has a portfolio of around 30 new anti-cancer agents in preclinical development, Phase I or early Phase II clinical trials. Six of these new agents have made it to market including temozolomide for brain cancer, abiraterone for prostate cancer and rucaparib for ovarian cancer. Two other drugs are in late development Phase III trials. This rate of success is comparable to that of any pharmaceutical company.
About Cancer Research UK
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Michael Polyviou/Todd Kehrli