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Targovax, Agenus Partner to Develop KRAS-Targeted Cancer Vaccines

NEW YORK – Agenus and Targovax on Monday said they have begun a collaboration to develop Targovax's KRAS cancer vaccines in combination with Agenus' QS-21 Stimulon adjuvant.

Under the collaboration, Agenus will supply QS-21 Stimulon and provide scientific support for up to three clinical trials for Targovax's KRAS cancer vaccine, TG01, in different cancer indications. If these clinical trials meet certain predefined performance targets, the two companies will extend the collaboration into an exclusive development and commercialization agreement, under which Agenus will be entitled to tiered double-digit royalties on future sales of Targovax's vaccines.

The companies didn't disclose the financial details of the collaboration.

Targovax's vaccines require an adjuvant, like Agenus' QS-21 Stimulon, to stimulate antigen processing and T-cell priming. TG01, the Oslo, Norway-based firm's lead neoantigen therapeutic vaccine, can induce mutant RAS specific T-cell immune responses in patients with KRAS-mutant cancers.

In a Phase I/II trial of 32 KRAS-mutant pancreatic cancer patients receiving TG01 and standard chemotherapy after surgery, the median overall survival was 33.3 months. In 2019, when these data were released, the company said in a statement that although the next step is to conduct a larger randomized trial, it won't pursue this opportunity "on a standalone basis" and instead focus its resources on advancing its oncolytic virus program.

The collaboration with Agenus allows Targovax to once again advance its cancer vaccine program. In addition to TG01, the company is also studying TG02, a second-generation mutant-RAS neoantigen cancer vaccine, in combination with Merck's checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in a Phase Ib colorectal cancer trial.

"QS-21 Stimulon is arguably the most clinically and commercially successful FDA approved adjuvant for protein- and peptide-based vaccines, and has proven highly effective in eliciting immune responses," Targovax CEO Erik Digman Wiklund said in a statement. "We expect that this unique adjuvant will further enhance the efficacy of our TG01 and TG02 products and see it as a critical component of our development strategy as we prepare to bring the TG vaccines back into the clinic in multiple mutant KRAS cancers."

QS-21 Stimulon boosts immune response to vaccines by inducing immune cells to interact with vaccine antigens, along with inducing antibody response, CD8 T-cell responses, and CD4 T-cell responses. Agenus has previously partnered with companies to use QS-21 Stimulon in vaccines for infectious diseases, including shingles and malaria.