Fighting cancer is a mission at Immunicon. Founded in 1983 by a professor at Thomas Jefferson University, a leading Philadelphia medical and health sciences university, Immunicon provides researchers and diagnosticians with cell-analysis systems enabling them to capture, count, and characterize rare cells such as circulating tumor cells in cancer patients. The company received FDA approval in December 2006 for the use of its CellSearch Circulating Tumor Cell Kit for breast cancer detection, and it's seeking FDA approval for the product to be used for detecting prostate and colorectal cancer.
The publicly held NASDAQ company is based in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., and for 2006, the firm reported $8 million in revenue, a one-year increase of 122%. Byron Hewett, Immunicon's president and CEO, says, "Pharmaceutical companies realize that we have a novel insight into certain diseases, and that we can help them develop tests to better understand targeted therapies in development. Some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry are now working with Immunicon Pharma Services."
Immunicon helps these companies develop cell assays for protein biomarkers or molecular targets associated with their agents. The company also offers clinical-trial testing services to incorporate cell analysis into clinical research and drug development programs.
One such win-win partnership with Big Pharma is Immunicon's work with New York-based Pfizer. "Our relationship with Pfizer dates back to 2003," Hewett says. "Pharma companies such as Pfizer are interested in developing targeted therapies that go for a particular receptor in the pathway of a disease. By blocking the pathway, you disrupt the disease so that it can't spread as fast or be as debilitating to the patient. We developed an assay for the insulin growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R), a receptor that Pfizer was interested in. We helped them better understand the mechanism of action and the likelihood that their drug would work."
The result? "We engaged in a number of Phase I studies with Pfizer in which we looked at that receptor," says Hewett. "Among patients who were positive for the IGF-1R receptor on their circulating cells, almost 60% responded to therapy. Of those who were negative, only about 15% responded to therapy." Hewett says that "Pfizer later indicated that, because of the data we generated, they moved the drug from Phase I to Phase II studies."
Based on the success of the Pfizer relationship, Leon Terstappen, Immunicon's chief scientific officer, says he "expects to initiate additional drug development studies like the Pfizer study as pharmaceutical companies seek ways to assess the efficacy of new therapies."
Immunicon also collaborates on diagnostic test development and clinical services with some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca, Novartis, Eisai in Japan and MolMed in Italy.
"We're excited about our collaborations with Big Pharma," says Hewett. "We're particularly enthusiastic about the role we can play in helping to identify winning drugs, and in getting these drugs to market faster."