Development and Testing of New Brain Cancer Immunotherapies

ABC2 CEO Max Wallace: Our research investment in Tocagen

Title: Testing Novel Brain Cancer Immunotherapies
Grantee: Tocagen

Because treating brain cancer requires solving challenges unique to the brain, having the right combination of expertise and resources is essential for rapid progress toward a cure. With this in mind, ABC2 in 2009 became the first non-profit to invest in Tocagen, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company devoted to discovering and developing immunotherapies for advanced brain cancer.

Tocagen’s immunotherapy program focuses primarily on developing new, next-generation treatments for recurrent high-grade glioma. These treatments rely on virus-based technology that hides in the cancer environment and spreads from cancer cell to cancer cell, delivering genes to an entire brain tumor. Upon delivery, the delivered genes program the brain tumor to convert a non-toxic chemical into a powerful anti-cancer drug – thereby killing the tumor but leaving healthy brain tissue unharmed. This focused attack also activates the immune system against the tumor to protect against recurrence.

A major benefit of Tocagen’s immunotherapy treatments is that they specifically target just cancer cells and thus have the potential to fight brain cancer with fewer side effects than other conventional or immunotherapy treatment approaches. Further, Tocagen’s treatments offer the flexibility to deliver different therapies that kill brain tumors directly, block tumor-driven metabolism, or activate the immune system – each of which could effectively fight brain cancer.

Since the investment by ABC2, Tocagen has continued to develop and test its immunotherapy treatments in recurrent high-grade glioma. These treatments are well tolerated in preclinical animal models, where they destroy tumors and improve long-term survival in nearly all treated animals. The funding from ABC2 has helped Tocagen to mature these treatments from the preclinical phase to the point of testing in human clinical trials. Tocagen is currently sponsoring three Phase 1 and one Phase 2/3 trial of their immunotherapy treatments for advanced brain cancer, where they could fulfill the promises of this technology for safe and effective cancer therapy.

Tocagen's latest data was presented at the AACR-NCI-EORTC meeting in October, 2017.