The birth of a Belgian company, a joint spin-off of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) and the de Duve Institute of the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL), focusing on new drug discovery, has been made possible thanks to support from the Belgian Walloon Government, LICR and several other investors for a total of €9 million.
A joint partnership between the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) and the de Duve Institute of the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL), iTeos Therapeutics’ focus will be on the development of innovative immunotherapy compounds for cancer treatments. The creation of the spin-off was made possible by the grant from a Walloon FIRST spin-off mandate. Then, in December 2011, the Walloon Government awarded iTeos a research grant for €6M. This support builds upon the progress of an earlier government program, the Biowin Pole of “Plan Marshall,” aimed at the development of small molecule immunomodulators.
The company comprises a team of experts specializing in tumor immunology, immunotherapy, drug discovery and business and drug development. iTeos CEO and co-founder Michel Detheux alongside iTeos co-founder Benoît Van den Eynde, (Brussels Branch Director at LICR and UCL professor) strongly believe that by using combination treatments, rather than single therapies, to control the tumor immunosuppressive mechanisms, the efficacy of most cancer therapies can be greatly enhanced.
Today, although the approval of drugs and vaccines that empower the immune system are allowing safer, more efficient and effective treatments, there is significant opportunity to improve on current treatments as tumors often develop mechanisms that enable them to evade the immune response. This is called immunosuppression. iTeos’ knowledge and expertise in tumor immunology and immunotherapy will focus on the development of small molecule immunomodulators intended to counteract cancer-induced immunosuppression.
iTeos’ mission is “to translate pioneering scientific discovery into meaningful treatments for people living with cancer”, in other words, to create effective immunotherapy treatments that will boost the body’s immune system and fight tumors.
With the expertise of LICR and research that has recently emerged from the Ludwig Institute itself, iTeos will pursue an approach that combines existing vaccines with new immunomodulatory compounds. Ludwig and UCL scientists, led by Dr. Van den Eynde, recently made the breakthrough discovery of the potential role of TDO in immunotherapy. TDO is a critical enzyme that is produced by a significant number of human tumors. In research published in the January 30th, 2012 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Van den Eynde’s team showed that blocking TDO with a novel inhibitor promotes tumor rejection in mice. This team was also responsible for recognizing the role that a similar enzyme, IDO, plays in tumor growth. TDO and IDO inhibitors are now in preclinical development at iTeos.
With financial support in place and access to the expertise and infrastructure of LICR, iTeos is in a strong position to execute its strategy and to ultimately develop products that will help people with cancer. What is viewed as an innovative preclinical program today, will hopefully become a standard for the treatment of cancer tomorrow.