NanoString Touts Collaborative Work in Immuno-Oncology at J.P. Morgan Conference

NanoString Technologies Touts Collaborative Work in Immuno-Oncology at J.P. Morgan Conference
January 11, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO -- When it comes to companion diagnostics, Seattle-based NanoString Technologies has been making a solid name for itself through successful oncology collaborations with companies like Merck & Co. , Celgene , Astellas and Medivation .

It’s a reputation that Brad Gray, NanoString’s president and chief executive officer, has cultivated, especially as the industry is making headways in battling various forms of cancer through new immuno-oncology trials that his company has helped conduct.

“This is just an incredibly exciting time in the field of cancer research,” Gray told BioSpace in an exclusive interview.

Gray said he was excited about the advances in immuno-oncology research and he was glad that NanoString is part of the next phase of medical research.

“People are using the term ‘cure’ (as a possibility) for the first time in a long time,” he said. “The types of companion diagnostic technology is well tuned to what the needs of immuno-oncology are. I’m excited and optimistic and believe that we can start to use the word cure.”

NanoString’s latest collaboration with Astellas and Medivation , worth up to $22 million, will see the company’s nCounter Dx Analysis System be used to run the diagnostic side of a Phase III trial for enzalutamide for triple negative breast cancer. That deal certainly provides a boost of confidence as the company heads into the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this week.

Working on a therapy for a devastating form of breast cancer will be rewarding, Gray said. Triple negative breast cancer currently has no recognized target for treatment, and patients must rely on cytotoxic chemotherapy for standard care. Under the agreement, NanoString will modify its PAM50-based Prosigna Breast Cancer Assay for potential use as a companion diagnostic test for enzalutamide in triple negative breast cancer. Enzalutamide is currently approved for the treatment of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer; it is not approved for use in women.

“This is our third partnership in 18 months and it’s an area we’re passionate about. With triple negative breast cancer… there’s a lot of room to do some good here,” Gray said.

Gray said the company’s nCounter technology continues to show progress as a leading platform for tumor profiling, including the introduction of the platform’s combined genomic and proteomic capability. The nCounter Analysis System is designed to be a cost-effective way to profile gene expression and miRNAs, or copy number variations, simultaneously. The platform is designed to facilitate basic research and translational medicine applications, including biomarker discovery and validation.

The company can certainly point to its success with its collaboration on Merck’s potential blockbuster Keytruda, which has shown efficacy in treating patients with melanoma, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between the protein PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. By binding to the PD-1 receptor and blocking the interaction with the receptor ligands, Keytruda releases the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response, including the anti-tumor immune response.

In May, NanoString announced a partnership with Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network to discover biomarkers that predict clinical outcomes for cancer immunotherapies, both as single agents and in combination. The collaboration will involve the use of NanoString's nCounter Analysis System and PanCancer Immune Profiling technology in multiple prospective CITN clinical trials, the company said. NanoString's immuno-oncology targeted panels will be used to analyze blood and tissue biopsies at multiple time-points during immunotherapy clinical trials.

Gray said his company’s successes in striking successful and lucrative deals with the larger companies is “pioneering a business model that’s more sustainable” and will allow more diagnostic companies to invest in personalized medicine collaborations. He said that kind of strategy helps build confidence in not only NanoString’s shareholders, but also in other diagnostics companies.

In addition to highlighting the use of its technology for use in immuno-oncology research, Gray said NanoString will present information on its 3D biology methodology as well as the fact its nCounter platform has been redesigned to make it available and affordable to individual researchers.

“This will allow us to reach a whole new market segment,” Gray said.

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