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NeoPhore’s new CEO says neoantigen model is virtually ready




Neoantigens help the immune system attack solid tumour cells more effectively
Neoantigens help the immune system attack solid tumour cells more effectively

Dr Matthew Baker is the new CEO of NeoPhore, the small molecule cancer immuno-oncology company that span out of Phoremost in 2017.

Dr Baker has been vice president of immunology at NeoPhore and succeeds Jeff Roix with immediate effect.

It’s perhaps as well he has experience at the company under his belt because the biggest shake-up of ‘business as usual’ in living memory.

“We are a virtual company, so the last couple of weeks have involved working from home and we will continue to do that without too much disruption,” Dr Baker said when asked about the current situation. “We have five team members, we’re not expecting to grow the team just now as we work with contract research organisations, which are lab-based, which we work with to discover small molecule compounds.”

NeoPhore’s drugs are designed to stimulate immunity directly at cancer’s core, by interfering with DNA repair and forcing cancer continuously to produce neoantigens that will be detected by the immune system.

“We inhibit the pathway formed in cell division, which enables the tumour cells to be the target and become immunogenic. It’s a very useful way of augmenting existing treatments on the surface of the cell, by taking the brakes off the immune system. In combination with our treatment this leads to a more effective tumour response in a variety of different solid tumours, for instance colorectal cancers and endometrial tumours, plus we’re developing a breast cancer application. The drugs can be used in any solid tumour with a low level of immunogenicity.”

The neoantigen field is at an early stage of development, but Matthew knows NeoPhore is on to something.

“Our drug is at the discovery phase. We know through our academic collaborators and founders that this pathway works via a patient’s defects and we’re trying to mimic that: we know it’s a validated target through the work in the clinic and their publications.”

NeoPhore has maintained close links with the mothership that is Phoremost and its CEO.

“NeoPhore is a standalone company and we still have great links with the executive management at Phoremost, especially Chris Torrance, and we have a collaborative arrangement with them which is invaluable. NeoPhore was essentially incubated by Phoremost. As I understand it – this was before I joined – the focus for NeoPhore was a separate interest from where Phoremost was intending to take the company.”

Matthew Baker, CEO at NeoPhore, which specialises in developing neoantigens
Matthew Baker, CEO at NeoPhore, which specialises in developing neoantigens

NeoPhore was originally based with Phoremost at Babraham Research Campus, but is now operating virtually with an office in King’s Cross because “we’re kind of a virtual company and only need office space, but many of the contract research organisations we work with are based in the Cambridge cluster”.

Dr Baker has been Cambridge-based since starting Antitope – now Abzena – in 2004. After three years as CSO of Abzena he initiated Denceptor, a joint vehicle between Abzena and Bayler. When Denceptor went to Bayler’s Dallas HQ he became a consultant before joining PhoreMost. He joined NeoPhore in June last year.

He adds: “Currently we are progressing through the hit and lead small molecule interpretation. The intention then is to go to pre-clinical candidate selection, which will be in two or three years. Normally we’d look to out-licence the drug at that stage, but we could also take it to clinic for proof of concept.”

Finance has been forthcoming from Sixth Element Capital.

“Going forward we’d look to fundraise to bring in new expertise as well as new finance.”

NeoPhore’s founders Alberto Bardelli (who was also involved at the start of Horizon Discovery) and Louis Baez of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York – check their coronavirus response here –“are still very heavily involved”.

Neophore chairman Robert James said: “On behalf of the board and management I would like to thank Jeff for his contribution to NeoPhore and am very pleased to welcome Dr Matthew Baker as CEO.

“On behalf of the board and management I would like to thank Jeff for his contribution to NeoPhore and am very pleased to welcome Dr Matthew Baker as CEO. This is an exciting time for NeoPhore as it continues to develop its leading position in DNA mismatch repair (MMR) drug discovery. Matthew’s leadership skills and years of experience as a research expert in cell immunology will prove invaluable as NeoPhore enters the next phase of growth.”


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