DPX-E7 is an investigational immunotherapy being developed by Immunovaccine to treat human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers, including cancers of the cervix, anus, vagina, penis, and head and neck. It is being tested in humans for the first time.
How DPX-E7 works
The immune system can identify abnormal cells through antigens, or substances that would not normally be found in the body.
The majority of cancers of the cervix, as well as other types of cancer, can be caused by HPV, which expresses the oncogenes E6 and E7. An oncogene is a gene that has the potential to cause cancer. As the peptides (or small part of a protein) encoded by these genes are only found in cancer cells, they are a good target for a cancer vaccine.
DPX-E7 contains the E7 peptide of the HPV-16 protein and is, therefore, a so-called peptide vaccine. This peptide can be recognized as an antigen by the immune system and stimulate the production of specialized immune cells called cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs), or “killer” T-cells that can identify and kill cells that express the E7 peptide.
DPX-E7 is produced using Immunovaccine’s proprietary DepoVax platform; the peptides are synthetically made and packaged into liposomes, a lipid layer made of the same material as our cell membrane that encapsulates the drug. This is then freeze-dried to remove all water, and re-suspended in oil to increase the stability of the antigen so that it can remain active in the body for as long as possible.
DPX-E7 in clinical trials
In a collaboration with Immunovaccine, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is carrying out clinical trials in humans testing DPX-E7 as a potential treatment for HPV-positive cancers.
An open-label Phase 1b/2 trial (NCT02865135), assessing DPX-E7 as a treatment for HPV-positive head and neck cancer, cervical cancer, and anal cancer, is now recruiting adult participants for the study, to be held at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Patients will receive DPX-E7, administered as an injection, alongside a low dose of Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), and will be monitored until cancer progression for up to two years. Cytoxan is a chemotherapy drug that can slow the growth of cancer cells.
The trial aims to recruit 44 participants and will track any adverse events related to the treatment and assess clinical benefits through the overall response and survival rate, as well as the progression-free survival rate over the two-year period. It is expected to be completed in May 2023.
These Phase 1b/2 trial is funded by a $1.5 million research grant from Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and the Farrah Fawcett Foundation. SU2C’s funding model, developed with the help of prominent cancer researchers, encourages collaboration and innovation through two different types of grants.
In a new joint effort, SU2C has started 10 clinical trials through its treatment development initiative SU2C Catalyst. The three companies that serve as charter supporters in SU2C Catalyst — Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Genentech — will provide funding and access to medications for the trials.
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