At the American Association of Cancer Research’s Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, DDW’s Megan Thomas met with industry experts to learn more about their research and careers in the field of cancer research. Thomas speaks with Andreas Bader, Chief Scientific Officer at Triumvira Immunologics.
MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
AB: I’m the Chief Scientific Officer for Triumvira Immunologics. We are a cell therapy company that uses a very specific receptor to engineer T cells and administer these engineered T cells back to solid tumour patients. We consider ourselves a next-generation engineered cell therapy company. There are a lot of successes that have been achieved with CAR T therapies. For example, CAR Ts have accomplished awesome successes in haematologic malignancies, and people are also trying to apply these technologies to solid tumours – but successes remain pending. Now, there is a lot of research out there that shows why that might be the case, which goes back to some of the limitations of cells that present themselves from patients overall, but also, which goes specifically back to the CAR design. So, we feel that with our technology – which is called the T cell Antigen Coupler (TAC), a very specific chimeric receptor – we have vastly improved on several of the limitations that come with the CAR design.
I’ve been with a company for more than five years now. We’ve been working on the technology for many years. We have now our lead product in a Phase I/II study, which is a HER-2 directed tag T cell product for patients with HER-2 positive solid tumours. We just completed the escalation phase and we have exciting data to show: very benign safety profile, as well as signs of clinical efficacy.
MT: What you think the biggest opportunity will be in the next five to ten years in your field?
AB: I think it is accomplishing on cell therapy in solid tumours as a whole. You can even look at it in from a broader perspective of what is the next breakthrough in oncology. ADCs have made a lot of headway, a lot of successes. I think there’s a lot of excitement about that modality. It is yet to be seen which modality as a whole will prevail, as often, I think it’s a combination of different things.
I personally think that cell therapy in solid tumours still remains a largely unharnessed approach. I think there’s a lot of learnings to be had and a lot of opportunities to improve that modality. I hope that the communities will give us that chance.
On top of that, specifically for cell therapy, the allogeneic piece remains a topic of debate, and that is because there are pros and cons. The biology is quite complicated… Can it ever work? Well, if it works, that would be fantastic. I think there is a chance that it can work. We haven’t really figured out exactly how to practice these technologies in an efficacious and safe way, but I think time will take us there and I think we just can’t give up. We always have to dream big, because only then can we make huge breakthroughs.
MT: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
AB: There have been many. AACR 2023 is definitely a highlight – to be in such an engaging environment in oncology. I feel the excitement in cell therapy. The most traffic that we have had at AACR around the posters is definitely in around cell therapy, or the broader umbrella of immunotherapy.
I’m personally excited that I ended up in immuno-oncology… more than ten years ago now. This is not how I started out. I started as a cancer biologist and worked with small molecules and antibodies. But since cancer is an always-evolving mass of cells, we actually need a therapy that can adapt to these constant changes. If you look at modalities that work through a more tailored constant mechanism of action, you have a very specific yet confined impact on cancer, but cancer always evolves around the block. We know the immune system is there to naturally keep cancer cells at bay, so to be able to harness this therapeutically would be a great opportunity. We have come a long way with checkpoint inhibitors and I think that cell therapy, as the immune cell in itself, provides one of the best opportunities to go about that.
MT: If you could make everyone read one book, article or academic paper, what would it be and why?
‘Everyone’ is a very large term, so I feel like I need to specify this in the context of our discipline: oncology and cell therapy. The papers and the articles that I’ve been reading relate very much to understanding what makes a great T cell therapeutic, a great product. There’s a huge translational gap going from drug discovery to our in vivo mouse models, and then on to a human subject. Bridging these gaps is absolutely critical. It would be wonderful to know what we should be doing preclinically to make really well performing products for human use. Cell therapy is a complicated modality because it is not stale… and this is actually what we want. But it also makes the research a little bit more complicated. So, back to your question: I very much enjoy articles that talk about clinical biomarkers and how they bring it back to the preclinical research, trying to understand the different parameters, what matters, even though it’s context-dependent, because every therapeutic still might be unique in some ways. But there’s a lot of learnings to be had from these articles that try to build these correlations from the preclinical stage into human use.