Dhillon, the 32-year-old CEO, said Inovio spent more than $100 million developing the technology before it was licensed to OncoSec.
Immunopulse in trials
The main focus of the company is Immunopulse, which is in Phase 2 trials and targets cancer cells that have metastasized or spread.
It’s also working on a technology called Neopulse, which targets early stage tumors and, instead of using gene therapy, delivers the anti-cancer drug bleomycin to tumors. Both use the same basic device.
Since Neopulse taps an approved cancer drug, Dhillon said OncoSec already is conducting stage-4 pre-marketing studies in Europe and expects to receive regulatory approval there soon.
In choosing its focus on Immunopulse, OncoSec saw opportunities in treating skin cancer.
“If you do a survey across different treatment options for advanced skin cancers, there’s only surgery or chemotherapy, which did not really improve survival for stage 3 and 4 population. There’s only a 15 percent survival rate for five-year survivors,” Dhillon said.
One of the reasons it targets Merkel cell carcinoma is because it’s three times more deadly than melanoma but still neglected and there is no approved therapy beyond radiation and surgery.
“So we have the potential to go after an orphan drug indication,” Dhillon said. “We’re the only Phase 2 program under development for this specific cancer.”
Orphan drug status, designated for therapies that treat rare medical conditions, would provide OncoSec with favorable pricing, reimbursement rates and market exclusivity for eight years.
OncoSec also hopes to expand Immunopulse’s usage for more common skin cancers.
Neopulse in post-surgery
Neopulse has been proven effective in early stage head and neck cancers, while still allowing patients to maintain their ability to eat, swallow and talk, Dhillon said.
OncoSec also obtained a patent in China for using Neopulse on post-surgery patients with scar tissue that has the potential to become malignant.
“Surgical oncologists can use it after they cut the tumor out and treat the margins of the tumor with Neopulse so it does not recur later,” Dhillon said. “It can also be used to treat the tumor so you take less tissue out.”
He expects the company will partner with oncology device companies to market Neopulse, while it remains focused on its current clinical trials for Immunopulse.
While Immunopulse is effective in controlling local tumors, Daud at UCSF said it’s far more applicable for metastatic cancers.
“You don’t need this kind of rocket science for local tumors,” he said. “The attraction of this approach is for metastatic melanoma, so you can use it to activate the immune response, which kills the tumors, including the distant ones. It has very high potential.”
Testing lacks wide field
The company expects to begin Phase 3 trials in the next year, when its efficacy will be tested on larger numbers of patients. So far, complete response to therapy has been in the 10 percent range while partial response ranges around 40 percent, Daud said.
While the numbers seem low, that’s because tests have been done in very few patients until now.