Immunocore is a world-leading, privately-owned, biotechnology company, developing a new class of biologic drugs for immunotherapy. The company’s novel ImmTAC technology platform is based on its proprietary expertise in T cell receptor engineering. ImmTAC molecules are uniquely designed to redirect the body’s immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells, and are currently being tested in clinical trials. To understand the how the ImmTAC platform works we first need to consider how cancer cells can be recognised. The majority of cancer targets are found inside the cell where most current therapies cannot access them. The immune system, however, has evolved a way
to recognise these targets – but how? First, the internal, or intracellular, cancer target
is naturally broken down by entering the proteasome. A small peptide fragment of the digested cancer
protein is then loaded on to a display molecule called HLA, to form a peptide-HLA complex. Finally, the peptide-HLA complex is transported to the cell surface.
Here, it joins other peptide-HLA complexes where they act as cancer specific markers,
or danger flags, for the attention of passing killer T cells. The reason why cancer cells
are frequently able to grow and divide unchecked is because the body’s killer T cells fail
to recognise these cancer specific markers. ImmTAC molecules are designed to solve this problem. The cancer targeting system of the ImmTAC comprises a precision-engineered T cell receptor, for ultra-strong recognition of cancer specific markers, and a novel disulphide bond for efficient manufacturing. The targeting system is fused to a potent immune-redirecting effector function that acts as a beacon to passing killer T cells. Let’s look at how the ImmTAC molecules work. Once administered, ImmTAC molecules circulate in the blood stream where they seek out cancer cells displaying a cancer specific peptide-HLA complex. Once found, they latch onto the complex and the effector function then acts as a beacon to attract the attention of passing killer T cells. An immune synapse forms between the
cancer cell and the killer T cell. The killer T cell then becomes activated and releases lytic granules, leading to death of the cancer cell. Task complete, the T cell is free to
move on to kill the next cancer cell. The ImmTAC platform from Immunocore has the potential to transform the treatment of cancer, and with it Immunocore is breaking new ground in immuno-oncology.