In 2016, Ultimovacs obtained the data that enabled it to proceed with the testing of its therapeutic cancer vaccine. In August, the company raised NOK 75 million to finance the trials.
Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen, CEO of Ultimovacs, is very satisfied with the year 2016. Over a long period of time, the company has been testing the therapeutic vaccine UV1 on prostate cancer, lung cancer and melanoma patients.
‘The results of the preliminary testing on patients are so good that we will proceed. We see that the vaccine activates the immune system in the desired way in as many as 70% of patients. At the same time, we have gained a good overview of the side-effects and see signs that the vaccine is having a clinical effect,’ says Kongstun Arnesen.
Along with nine colleagues, he is now following up the patients who have received the treatment. At the same time, they are working hard to set up new trials, Phase II trials, to document the effect and safety of the vaccine in combination with new cancer drugs – known as PD1 inhibitors.
Immunotherapy activating the immune system
Ultimovacs’ technology is in the field of immunotherapy, which, in addition to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, is the fourth way of treating cancer. There is huge interest in this field, after a number of new therapeutic options based on immunotherapy have revolutionised the treatment of many types of cancer in recent years. Immunotherapy is all about triggering the immune system to attack the cancer cells.
‘With our technology, we can attack cells that contain an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase is found in nearly all cancer cells – but only to a limited extent in ordinary cells. It is the cancer cells’ “immortality enzyme”, allowing them to divide an infinite number of times. You could say it is a prerequisite for being a cancer cell, so it is an ideal point of attack for cancer therapy. The UV1 vaccine activates the immune system to attack telomerase-positive cells,’ says Kongstun Arnesen.
Combination studies are the future
In a study, Ultimovacs gave patients with malign melanoma a combination therapy consisting of the UV1 vaccine and an existing treatment called Ipilimumab.
‘Ipilimumab is what is called a checkpoint inhibitor. This drug removes the brakes that cancer cells apply to the immune system, which is what prevents the immune system from recognising and destroying them,’ Kongstun Arnesen explains.
At the same time, it turns out that only two to three out of ten patients who are given the checkpoint drug Ipilimumab have a positive effect, probably because their immune systems are not sufficiently activated. That is the reason why Ultimovacs has chosen to combine these two methods.
‘The idea is to turn off the brakes on the cancer cells with Ipilimumab and boost the immune system with UV1 – simultaneously. In this first trial, we seem to have succeeded in this,’ says Kongstun Arnesen.
‘I think this kind of combination therapy will be the future, and in this area, Norway is among the leaders in the field. We have everything we need to be able to produce good treatments,’ Arnesen concludes.
Spun out of the Radium Hospital
Ultimovacs was spun out of research at the Norwegian Radium Hospital. Researchers Gustav Gaudernack, Else Marit Indreberg Suso and Anne Marie Rasmussen developed the technology on which the company is based.
‘Ultimovacs is a good example of how Inven2 can commercialise an invention from the research community. Inven2 endeavours to find the most expedient path from idea to commercialisation, and in our case, that involved starting a company. And they also did a good job of finding investors who were willing to invest. They also chose to become a co-owner of the company and are still one of our biggest owners,’ explains Kongstun Arnesen.
That many people believe in the vaccine is not in any doubt. In 2016, the company raised NOK 75 million from a well-known group of existing and new owners, such as Gjelsten Holding AS, Canica AS, Sundt AS and Watrium AS. The Norwegian Radium Hospital Research Foundation and Inven2 are also substantial owners of Ultimovacs AS.