Ziopharm Attracts Top Talent from the National Cancer Institute

07/25/2019 5:00 am EST

Focus: HEALTHCARE

John McCamant

Editor, Medical Technology Stock Letter

In a major coup for Ziopharm Oncology (ZIOP), the company has attracted the services of Drew Deniger, Ph.D., from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to lead the company’s program to genetically modify T-cells to express neoantigen-specific T-cell receptors (TCRs), effective July 29, 2019, explains John McCamant, editor of The Medical Technology Stock Letter

Since 2013, Dr. Deniger has worked at the NCI under Dr. Steven Rosenberg where he has served as Lead Investigator for the group’s efforts in three initiatives: Identifying “hotspot” neoantigens for T-cell therapy; targeting neoantigens in metastatic endometrial and ovarian cancers; and non-viral gene therapy using the Sleeping Beauty platform to generate TCR-modified T cells targeting neoantigens.

Prior to his tenure at the NCI, Dr. Deniger earned B.S. degrees in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, a M.S. in Cancer Biology and a Ph.D. in Immunology from the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

His post-doctoral instruction was in the laboratory of Dr. Rosenberg, where he was trained in clinical translation of cancer immunotherapy, including tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), neoantigen-specific T cells and TCR-T therapy.

ZIOP is clearly gaining momentum in their TCR program as it was just last month when announced that the investigational new drug (IND) application submitted by the NCI had received FDA clearance for a clinical trial in solid tumors to evaluate TCR-T utilizing Ziopharm’s Sleeping Beauty platform.  

With this approach, T cells can be genetically modified to express multiple, neoantigen-specific TCRs, which Ziopharm believes will be foundational technology to successfully targeting and treating metastatic solid tumors.  ZIOP and the NCI are partnered through January 2022 in a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA). 

We expect the first NCI clinical trial using TCRs to be announced shortly, in days or weeks, with more to follow in the coming months as the platform may be able to treat many different types of solid tumors. 

Dr. Deniger has voted with his feet as he will now lead ZIOP’s exciting technology platform from the preclinical stage into human clinical development. We rate the stock a buy under $5 with a target price of $12.

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