Gritstone Oncology, Inc. focuses on the development of anti-cancer treatments that target unique proteins, called neoantigens, found on tumor cells. The company's approach marries big data and artificial intelligence analysis with fundamental scientific principles and recent breakthroughs in immunology with the goal of developing effective, tumor-specific anti-cancer immunotherapies.
"We are developing next generation immunotherapies to fight multiple cancer types," says company President and CEO Andrew Allen, M.D., Ph.D.
Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses patients' own immune systems to recognize and destroy tumors that arise within their bodies. To develop an effective treatment, Gritstone must first learn what a particular tumor looks like to a patient's immune system by sequencing the tumor at the DNA and RNA levels. Then the company uses a proprietary artificial intelligence platform, called EDGE, which is designed to analyze that information and identify the most critical tumor neoantigens as targets for a patient's immune system.
The EDGE platform is one of two key pillars that makes the company unique. The second pillar is a prime-boost vaccine system that is intended to drive the patient's immune system to attack and destroy tumors containing the identified neoantigens.
"Our approach seeks to elicit a therapeutic immune response by leveraging insights into the immune system's ability to recognize and destroy tumor cells by targeting tumor-specific neoantigens," notes Dr. Allen, who cofounded Gritstone and has served as President, CEO, and member of Gritstone's board of directors since the company was founded in August 2015. It went public in September 2018.
The link between the immune system and cancer was first discussed more than 50 years ago but only recently has this medical field developed sufficiently to allow for a truly personalized type of cancer treatment. "It has become clear over the last few years that using your immune system to eradicate tumors is potentially the best chance we have of completely curing people of advanced tumors," notes Dr. Allen.
One of Gritstone's programs is developing a personalized therapy approach called GRANITE that targets neoantigens that are specific to an individual patient. Initially GRANITE will be evaluated in the treatment of common solid tumors, including metastatic non-small cell lung cancer and gastroesophageal, bladder, and colorectal cancers. A second program, called SLATE, is developing a broader type of therapy that targets neoantigens that are commonly expressed in specific cancer types. The versatility of the platform enables additional potential programs and collaborations.
"We believe both of our programs have the potential to change the treatment of cancer," says Dr. Allen. "Neoantigens represent a new class of targets for advancing cancer immunotherapy and have been validated in cancer patients as critical immune targets."
Dr. Allen once cared directly for patients as a physician. Later he worked for many years at companies developing more traditional drugs for cancer. "Over time I became increasingly frustrated that we were treating people who were in the prime of life when given a diagnosis of cancer," he says. The available drugs might prolong patient lives by a period of time, months or perhaps years, but nonetheless "they were not curing people." The desire to cure people is what eventually led Dr. Allen and his distinguished colleagues to launch Gritstone Oncology.
Gritstone's headquarters are located in Emeryville. It also has an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is home to the company's tumor sequencing, informatics, and artificial intelligence teams. Gritstone opened its state-of-the-art biomanufacturing facility at Hacienda in late 2017. Approximately 40 employees work at the Hacienda facility, a number that is expected to grow as the company grows.
"This 43,000 square-foot space is manufacturing our investigational therapies for use in our clinical trials," notes Dr. Allen. "We were very excited to launch the core of our manufacturing capabilities in Pleasanton because it is a well-known Bay Area biomanufacturing hub where we could attract top talent."
For more information about Gritstone Oncology, please visit gritstoneoncology.com.