Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated 0.6 million deaths in 2020, in the US alone. The World Health Organization has estimated the number of new cancer cases to rise by 70%, worldwide, over the next 20 years. It is a well-known fact that the conventional treatment options, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, demonstrate limited efficacy in late-stage cancers. Moreover, the non-specific and highly toxic nature of traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have been demonstrated to have detrimental effects on patients’ quality of life. Amongst the emerging class of targeted anti-cancer therapies, immunotherapy has emerged as a versatile option, having demonstrated the capability to selectively target and eliminate tumor cells. As a result, such products have favorable side effects profiles. For instance, immune check point inhibitors (such as atezolizumab, nivolumab, and pembrolizumab) have been demonstrated to offer long term clinical benefits to patients suffering from metastatic tumors. Similarly, other immunotherapies, such as dendritic cell therapy, T cell receptor transduced T cells, and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified T cells have shown promising results in eradicating primary and metastasized cancer cells. However, these therapies have been associated with severe and often life-threatening side effects, such as cytokine storm. Moreover, for T cell therapies, mispairing of endogenous and transfected TCR α and β chains have been demonstrated to have detrimental biological effects.
Traditionally, cytokines have been investigated as a therapeutic modality across multiple clinical trials, particularly as anti-cancer agents. However, the systemic administration of such potent, biologically active molecules has been shown to be associated with a wide range of dose-dependent side effects and unfavourable pharmacokinetic properties, which, in a way, hinders dose escalation to therapeutically beneficial levels. To overcome the treatment-limiting toxicities of cytokines, researchers are now focusing on immunocytokines. Immunocytokines are fusion proteins, featuring the target specificity of antibodies and the immunological response mediating capabilities of specific cytokines. These engineered pharmacologically active molecules have, so far, demonstrated better efficacy and reduced toxicity compared to conventional cytokine-based therapies. As a result, immunocytokines are now being investigated for the treatment of a wide array of target indications, including cancers, autoimmune disorders, and certain chronic inflammatory diseases. It is also worth highlighting that this upcoming class of molecules has been demonstrated to work in synergy with certain other established therapeutics, including small molecule drugs (doxorubicin and cytarabine), intact antibodies (atezolizumab, durvalumab, ipilimumab, and nivolumab), radiation therapy, and other immunocytokines. Driven by encouraging clinical trial results, this niche, but emerging domain, is poised to witness healthy growth over the next decade, with pioneers in the field likely to benefit from the first-to-market advantage.
Immunocytokines currently under development
Presently, nearly 80 fusion proteins, featuring an antibody component and a cytokine payload, are being evaluated for treating different oncological disorders and certain chronic inflammatory disorders.
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Most of the product candidates are presently in the early stages of clinical development; by varying the payload, a diverse range of immunocytokines have been developed for delivery via different routes of administration
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The rising interest in this field is reflected in the gradual increase in partnerships and capital investments, made by prominent institutional investors in the recent past
Funding and investment activity
Multiple clinical studies, evaluating various types of immunocytokines, and involving nearly 9,400 patients across different centers / hospitals, have been initiated worldwide
Owing to their active involvement in clinical research efforts related to immunocytokines, a number of prominent scientists from renowned universities have emerged as key opinion leaders.
The market is anticipated to get the required impetus after the approval of the first immunocytokine, L19TNF; the future opportunity is likely to be distributed across target indications, route of administration and key geographies
Immunocytokines represent a promising class of activators of the immune system. They have the potential to be used alone or in combination with other therapeutic drugs. They are proven to be versatile agents, capable of boosting the activity of other classes of therapeutic drugs. Given initial success in clinical trials, immunocytokines are poised to witness significant growth in the near future.
For further information on this emerging domain, check out the report.