Novel Cancer Drug by St. Louis Startup Is Designed to Uniquely Destroy Tumors Throughout Body

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    St. Louis-based Immunophotonics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company, is advancing interventional immuno-oncology with a novel technology designed to treat many kinds of cancer. Immunophotonics announced it has raised $21.4 million dollars to advance clinical trials of its cancer treatment.

    “Interventional immuno-oncology, in its simplest form, is the convergence of tumor destruction with immune stimulation to attack the cancer. And we’re spearheading this new field through the development of our lead asset, IP-001,” said Lu Alleruzzo, CEO & Co-Founder of Immunophotonics.

    The company describes IP-OO1 as a one of a kind immune-stimulating drug. The proprietary carbohydrate polymer acts both as an antigen depot and a potent immune activator capable of stimulating immunological responses against cancer. 

    Having launched in BioGenerator Labs in the BioSTL Building in St. Louis, Alleruzzo said Immunophotonics is making groundbreaking progress with the promising cancer treatment. IP-001 is coupled with common methods for tumor ablation.  

    “With tumor ablation, you’re leaving behind the dead tumor tissue and typically that’s cleared through standard physiological processes. And what’s interesting is that tumor debris contains information about the cancer,” he said.

    To retrieve that information, Alleruzzo explained IP-001 successfully infiltrates what remains of the enemy after the ablation procedure. That would be the tumor fragments, particularly tumor antigens.    

    “Tumor antigens are the distinguishing element between cancer and self,” he explained. “So if you can utilize that tumor antigen and say, ‘This is what the enemy looks like’, we can use that information to train the immune system on what they need to seek out and destroy wherever it is in the body.” 

    In a way, the drug is designed to investigate for information needed for immune cells to effectively fight, kind of like a spy.

    “A spy that then captures what the enemy looks like. So it has a specific charge profile along the backbone of this very large molecule. And that allows it to intertwine, interact with biological material and physically pull it and retain it on site.”

    IP-001 generates a depot effect, enhancing antigen retention and allowing for prolonged interaction with the immune system. 

    The mission in this battle begins when the therapy is injected immediately following the ablation. It’s the beginning of what would become the body’s ability to wage war on cancer. 

    “And then the immune system recruits its army, the killer T cells. And it sends that army out, not only to the ablated or destroyed tissue, but also distant untreated tumors that might also be in the body. And that’s the innovation of IP-001.” 

    The drug is now in phase 2 clinical trials taking place in Europe. And Alleruzzo said he’s excited about another application for IP-001. 

    “Some promising results that indicate applicability in infectious diseases applications,” he said. “The combination of IP-001 or a derivative of IP-001 with, for example, COVID-19 proteins that is applied in the intranasal cavity has the potential to produce a strong and robust immune response against COVID,” he said. “So just by injecting our drug into the nasal cavity of mice, and then if the mice are exposed to lethal doses of the virus, just the injection of our drug actually creates an immune response into the nasal mucosal cavity that prevents a serious infection associated with the virus.”