As rivals press in, Stanford spinout Forty Seven burnishes its prospects from an impressive PhIb

Irv Weissman’s anti-CD47 cancer drug is in the spotlight today with early but remarkable data published in the NEJM to underscore its potential as a new cancer therapy.

Irv Weissman

The legendary Stanford investigator founded Forty Seven $FTSV to see if it could take the lead among biotechs working on conquering the ‘don’t-eat-me’ signal emitted by the protein CD47 on cancer cells. Combined with rituximab, their combo elicited a positive response in half of the cancer patients they tested it on, with 8 of those patients achieving a complete response — with no sign of residual disease.

Three patients did not respond and died. All of the patients had failed at least 2 lines of therapy — with a median of 4 failures — before they were recruited for the trial. This is an update on their first data cut at ASCO.

Their antibody — Hu5F9-G4, of 5F9  — is designed to spur macrophages to slaughter cancer cells. And in this study researchers recruited a handful of people with two kinds of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

“It’s very exciting to have a potentially new class of immunotherapy like this,” said Stanford professor Ranjana Advani, who led the Phase Ib trial. “For the first time we have an antibody that activates macrophages against cancer and appears to be safe for use in humans.”

Forty Seven has an interesting past. The 78-year-old Weissman was able to wrangle substantial support for his early research work on CD47 from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, even launching early human studies — a rare feat in academic circles. Weissman and former CIRM chief Alan Trounson enjoyed a tight relationship, which extended to Trounson’s appointment to the board of another startup that Weissman had helped found — StemCells — shortly after his departure from the agency. And Forty Seven is still getting money from CIRM under its latest $19 million grant.

The company isn’t alone in this field, with several rivals looking to pioneer new drugs. Potential competitors include Arch Oncology (formerly Tioma Therapeutics), backed by Novo, GSK and Roche; Surface Oncology as well as Boehringer Ingelheim, among others.

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