The importance of partnership and innovation in oncology

Fostering synergies to accelerate innovation in oncology and make it attractive for partners has been the MATWIN motto for over a decade, writes CEO Lucia Robert, MATWIN who outlines the organisations’s work

MATWIN is a French open-innovation platform dedicated to supporting innovation in oncology. For more than ten years, its goal has been to help scientists and entrepreneurs evaluate and optimise opportunities to transform their research into product, for the benefit of the patient. It can best be described as a toolbox platform allowing access to top-level expertise in oncology. It also helps to translate ground-breaking research results into the clinic faster, in order to improve the outcomes for cancer patients. This platform represents a great opportunity, not to be missed, for scientists and entrepreneurs looking to showcase an innovation that can impact oncology treatment or diagnosis. In turn, this can help define clinical strategy to attract more interest from pharma companies.

In 2009 MATWIN set up a programme whose main objectives were to select R&D innovative oncology projects with high technology transfer potential, drive asset identification and support the most promising projects in accelerating development and optimising collaboration opportunities.

This programme is managed by a private company, also called MATWIN, with a small team that coordinates the development process and access to the broader MATWIN network. As a fully-owned subsidiary of Unicancer, the French federation of 18 comprehensive cancer centres (CCCs) MATWIN also offers European candidates direct access to world-class French clinical expertise in oncology.

Support provided includes a six-month acceleration program open to any European academic team or start-up offering innovative products or solutions in oncology. The process is based on a continuing partnership with major international companies working in oncology  – Amgen, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb/Celgene, Exact Sciences, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Nanostring Technologies, Novartis, Pfizer, Pierre Fabre, Roche and Sanofi – and with the general ecosystem working on optimising technology transfer of promising innovations in the field (technology transfer offices, incubators, clusters, etc.).

The MATWIN board selects the most promising projects. It has around 20 members, including leading global industrial decision-makers in oncology R&D, from MATWIN’s partners and key academic opinion leaders from major cancer research centres across Europe. This board interviews project leaders, provides recommendations and identifies those with the highest industrial development transfer potential.

Access to such top-level expertise is totally unprecedented within Europe’s research and innovation ecosystem. As proof that its feedback has a key influence on a projects’ development, most of the companies that MATWIN has supported have seen their work fast-tracked and have attracted genuine international interest, with, in some cases, access to significant investment.

A laureate from 2017, Eric Halioua, CEO of PDC*line Pharma, said: “Receiving MATWIN’s most promising project award has clearly boosted our image and increased our industry contacts. It has also enabled us to get feedback from real experts – similar to a due diligence role.”

Within two years of receiving the MATWIN label, the Belgian-French biotech company was granted an exclusive licence from leading Korean pharmaceutical company LG Chem to develop its PDC*lung cancer vaccine in Asia, in a deal worth $123 million (€103.4M), plus tiered royalties on net sales. In 2020, PDC*line also raised €20 million ($23.8M) in a Series B financing round to support the company’s Phase I/II trial.

Having shortlisted ten projects based on their promising medical findings and potential for industrial development, last October the MATWIN board members met virtually to interview the project leaders. Within a few days of the meeting, six out of the ten projects presented had already received first expressions of interest from several of MATWIN’s partners. Discussions are being organised with the different companies to move forward on possible collaborations.

Three projects were singled out for special awards by the MATWIN board, based on their potential future development.

  • HEPHAISTOS-Pharma: the project was elected ‘Best-in-class therapeutic innovation’. This French biotech company is developing a new generation of cancer treatments based on stimulation of the patient’s immune system. ONCO-Boost, Hephaistos’ platform lead product, is highly effective against cancers with unmet medical needs, such as osteosarcoma. ONCO-Boost can also be used in combination with chemotherapies or immunotherapies, such as immune checkpoint inhibitors. Hephaistos’ ambition is to increase the percentage of patients cured by immunotherapy. The company is looking for private investors to start clinical trials in 2022.
  • DIVINCELL: the project was elected ‘Best innovative therapeutic approach’. French start-up Divincell has developed a new therapeutic approach, DIV-TREX, which specifically targets KRAS mutations. KRAS oncogene mutations play an essential role in the spread of more than 60% of cancers. Although they are a major therapeutic target, there is no effective treatment against KRAS mutations. The DIV-TREX nano-vehicle delivers genetic scissors into the depths of the tumors, leading to a robust correction of KRAS oncogene mutations. DIV-TREX stops growth in pancreatic, lung and colorectal tumors, without inducing toxic responses. It can be used in synergy with current cancer treatments. Considering its strong potency DIV-TREX paves the way to targeted and personalised therapies for the treatment of KRAS associated cancers.
  • FASTBASE Solutions:the project was elected ‘Best predictive test’. Fastbase Solutions is a spin-off of Cancer Research UK. It was founded in 2016 and is based in Bilbao, Spain, and Bath, UK. Fastbase has developed a unique molecular diagnostics platform that enables precise and quantitative readouts of protein-protein interactions and protein post-translational modifications in fixed patient pathology samples. The platform aims to impact the precision medicine industry by providing clinicians with the means to improve patient selection and stratification, beyond that provided by the simple expression levels of proteins. With its platform, Fastbase Solutions has developed an innovative test based on efficient and reliable detection of the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction to predict patient’s response to immune oncology in numerous cancer types. It has already successfully assessed its hypothesis in different clinical proof of concepts, with patient samples; now its next step is to fully validate it with a higher number of patients.

MATWIN also co-organises the annual European Oncology Partnering Convention MEET2WIN; usually in May in France. This event has found its place within the European innovation ecosystem and gathers around 300 attendees (international companies, SMEs, start-ups, investors, researchers, clinicians, technology transfer offices…) willing to boost collaborative opportunities in the oncology field. This two-day partnering event combines conferences, elevator pitches and access to more than 1,000 one-to-one prescheduled business meetings, as well as an exhibition area. It also organises OUI (Oncology Upward Investment), a specific session dedicated to investment. This allows selected companies looking for investment to pitch in front of a jury composed of 15 major European investors able to support their growth.

Given the Covid-19 context, the 2020 MEET2WIN convention was postponed to May 2021 ( In response, the OUI Investors session gathered digitally, which took place simultaneously with the MATWIN Board meeting. Among the eleven preselected companies for the OUI pitch, the panel decided to single out three French start-ups:

  • Step Pharma: a start-up developing a new class of oral nucleotide synthesis inhibitors to provide better treatment for hematological malignancies
  • GamaMabs: a spin-off of the LFB pharmaceutical group specialised in the development of first-in-class therapeutic monoclonal antibodies in the field of immuno-oncology
  • Mablink Bioscience: a start-up focusing on immunoconjugates (ADCs) and offering a new platform for optimizing the design of new ADC drug candidates

To demonstrate the positive impact of having the support of such a panel, the ten companies selected for the OUI pitch last year have already raised a total official funding amount of $12M (€10.3M). This represents the minimum, as most funding information is confidential.

About the author

Lucia Robert has been managing the MATWIN platform since 2010. She has over 20 years professional experience in the technology transfer of academic research, with internationally recognized expertise in supporting health innovation in both public and private sectors.




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