Oncology ABCs (part two) – vaccines: niche no longer


Oncology ABCs (part two) – vaccines: niche no longer

Vaccines: Niche no longer

Vaccines: Niche no longer

Despite fits and starts, scientists remain fully invested in discovering curative vaccines. The complexity of the topic warrants a closer look, especially after recent events. The most notable and recent catalysts are anticipated to continue to fuel advancements and include heightened immunotherapy awareness (with the global COVID-19 pandemic), momentum in combination therapies (extending survival) and drive for personalized medicine. These recent trends and wider acceptance of complex vaccines are anticipated to reinvigorate deal activity that targets companies with the most robust and innovative technologies and possibly change perceptions.

Evolution from tried-and-true to curative

For quite some time, commercialized vaccines have proven to be reliable in preventing infectious disease. Supported by an early thesis from more than 300 years ago and the eradication of smallpox less than 50 years ago, vaccines have played an important role in preventative care. Although considered a basic scientific foundation, vaccines train the immune system to detect, attack pathogens, and forge immunological memories. Perhaps the effectiveness of traditional vaccines on less variable pathogens has staved off the urgency to materially diverge the development of alternative applications for more complex therapies. Nonetheless, we believe recent catalysts provide an impetus to change this dated perception and optimism for the discovery of therapies with improved efficacy and survival.

Numerous advanced concepts have evolved over the past decades. Most of these technologies (vaccine platforms) have not advanced outside of the clinic or materially circulated outside a small community of highly specialized scientists. The vaccines used during the COVID-19 pandemic are just a taste of a relatively more advanced technology (mRNA and DNA), which we view as a half step in the potential evolution of vaccines.

Combination therapies are the key (in oncology)

This heightened awareness of novel technologies, coupled with the notable emergency order government funding and political support, has drawn significant global interest and has started to change perceptions of vaccines. Cancer vaccines now represent an important part of many biotech pipelines. Although there is much variability in approaches, several companies are forging their own paths.

There had not been much success with proposed monotherapies so far. Significant investments (and strides) have been made in checkpoint inhibitors, but recent thinking has evolved and suggests it is not a long-term, standalone solution. Recent advancements in vaccines and the wider acceptance of combination therapies are anticipated to reinvigorate partnering and deal activity, targeting companies with the most robust and innovative technologies. We view this as pivotal for oncology vaccines, either independently (through partnerships) or as acquisition targets, where buyers contemplate the buy-versus-build decision in a segment with a significantly long investment tail.  

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