Published: 24 December 2017
The UK’s most prolific inventor in 2016 is research chemist Alex Powlesland who is pioneering a new way to cure cancer using the body’s own immune system.
Alex works for Immunocore, the world’s leading T Cell Receptor (TCR) company, which is developing first-in-class biologics that have the potential to transform patients’ lives. He was the inventor named on 33 international patent applications by Immunocore this year – the highest number by any British company.
Immunocore’s patent attorney, CIPA Fellow Nick Lee of Kilburn and Strode, London, said: “Progress really has been made in cancer treatment. We no longer have to rely on the blunt instrument of chemotherapy because, thanks to this new medicine, we can use our own immune system to destroy cancerous cells.”
Immunocore’s proprietary ImmTAC® (Immune mobilising monoclonal TCRs Against Cancer) molecules are engineered bispecific molecules composed of an engineered, potent, soluble TCR with the ability to recognise and selectively bind to cancer cells. The TCR is fused to an effector function which acts as a beacon, re-directing T cells to kill the cancer cells.
Alex and his colleagues at Immunocore’s laboratories in Oxfordshire are developing different ImmTAC molecules to target specific cancers that are either hard-to-treat or have a low survival rate. Immunocore’s therapeutics have broad applicability across a wide range of diseases, including solid tumours - which have previously proved difficult to treat with other immunotherapies - and infectious diseases including HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV) and Tuberculosis. Immunocore has a pipeline of proprietary and partnered products in development and their lead programme, IMCgp100, is currently undergoing pivotal clinical studies for the treatment of patients with metastatic uveal melanoma, a rare and deadly type of ocular cancer where there are currently no effective treatment options available.
Clinical results have so far been compelling, with data recently presented to the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) showing a 73% one-year survival rate in metastatic uveal melanoma patients treated in two Phase I studies of IMCgp100, Immunocore’s lead drug candidate. This represented a near doubling in the average rate of overall survival in patients compared with studies of other agents.
“It has been incredibly exciting and rewarding to see the dramatic improvements in the health of patients starting their treatment with IMCgp100 on our clinical trials who were very ill indeed,” said Alex.
“Some of the patients – not of all them – but a good many of them are now living lives that they did not expect to be able to before they began their IMCgp100 treatment.”
Immunocore’s drug candidates are each designed to detect specific targets – the naturally-occurring peptides on the surface of cancer cells. It is these peptides which Immunocore is patenting along with its TCR-based technology.
Given that it takes 10-12 years and an average of $1billion to develop a successful drug and bring it to market, patents are essential in order to protect advances in research and development and to attract investment.
“There has been massive financial investment in this technology and our patent strategy is essential in protecting the products that are transforming our patients’ lives“, said Alex.
“Nick and his team are invaluable in enabling us to make decisions in protecting our cutting edge biologics and obtaining the investments necessary to bring our technologies to market.”
When Alex joined Immunocore they employed 40 staff, but that number has grown to over 450 during his nine years with the Company.
Alex added: “This is the first time a biologic medicine like IMCgp100 has gone into clinical trials. We actively engage with the scientific community and look to share our findings in an appropriate fashion. It is not an automatic policy to protect our peptides.
“Our findings are often published in order to speed up progress outside our company in some of these areas. We have a liberal stance wherever possible.”