New class of immunotherapy drug shows promise in early clinical trial

2020-04-27 00:00:00

Results are disclosed today from the world’s first clinical trial of a new class of immunotherapy drugs which fight cancer using one of the body’s natural defences against parasites.

The antibody, called MOv18 IgE, was discovered and developed at King’s College London, with support from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research and tested in patients at hospitals in London and Cambridge. The clinical trial is funded, sponsored and managed by Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development and supported by NIHR Clinical Research Facility at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Early results were presented today at the virtual annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research*.

Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body’s own natural defence system to attack cancer. All existing antibody drugs used in cancer belong to an antibody type called IgG, but the new trial has for the first time tested an IgE antibody, called MOv18 IgE**.

Because the immune system reacts differently to IgE antibodies these types of drugs could potentially stimulate a more effective reaction against cancer. The new immunotherapy could also attack the disease in entirely new ways as IgE antibodies alert and employ different immune cells. The common immunotherapy drugs in use today utilise IgG antibodies which are naturally involved in attacking bacteria and viruses in the body, but these IgE antibodies are naturally involved in targeting parasites like worms and flukes.

This phase I clinical trial gives increasing doses of MOv18 IgE to patients with advanced cancer***, whose tumour cells have high levels of folate receptor alpha, the target of this antibody, on their surface. High levels of folate receptors are found across lots of different tumour types and are most commonly overexpressed in ovarian cancer.

Like all phase I trials the main aim of this study was to determine whether the drug can be given to patients safely. Treatment with MOv18 IgE has been well tolerated in almost all patients. The most common toxicity was readily manageable urticaria, also called nettle rash or hives. Although this is just the first step in the clinical development of IgE drugs, preliminary evidence of transient anti-cancer activity was seen in a patient with ovarian cancer. Global rights to MOv18 IgE have recently been in-licensed by Epsilogen.

Prof James Spicer, trial lead from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), and the King’s Health Partners Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, said: “We know that different types of antibodies cause different immune responses in the body. We think IgE will act differently to other antibodies previously tested. This trial investigates if this difference can change how a patient’s immune system targets cancer.

“This is a huge step in the development of a new type of immunotherapy, which could in the future benefit cancer patients. But it’s important to remember that this is early stage work and more trials are needed to see just how effective IgE drugs will be. And it is likely to be a number of years before these treatments are the norm. Like almost all experimental cancer treatments around the world this trial of MOv18 IgE is paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we hope to restart recruitment later this year.”

Prof Sophia Karagiannis, chief scientist on the trial from the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas', said: “We’ve spent many years studying this new class of immunotherapy and it’s very exciting that we’ll now be able to see if this could work in cancer patients. Based on our previous research we hope that using the IgE antibody will train the immune system to specifically seek out and attack cancer cells in the same way it responds to parasites.”

Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK’s director of drug development, said: “We’ve made great strides in the use of immunotherapies in cancer, but so far we’ve only worked with a handful of the different types of immune cells. The IgE antibody could increase our arsenal against the disease by tapping into defences we haven’t previously explored.

“This clinical trial is a mammoth achievement for the Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development and wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the dedicated teams here and at King’s. If IgE immunotherapy works well it could move the field of immunotherapy forward in a new direction.”

The project was developed by scientists from King’s College London in collaboration with the Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development. The MOv18 IgE drug was made by Cancer Research UK’s Biotherapeutics Development Unit. The trial receives infrastructure support from the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC and the King’s Health Partners Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre. Additional clinical sites recruiting patients are Cambridge University Hospitals, University College London Hospital and Royal Marsden Hospital.

This trial is currently on hold, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is hoped recruitment will restart later this year. For more information about COVID-19 and cancer please visit

Notes to editors

* For more information about the trial visit:!/9045/presentation/10640

** The MOv18 IgE drug was discovered and developed at King’s College London by Prof Sophia Karagiannis, Prof James Spicer and colleagues. Scientists at the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan first discovered and characterized the original MOv18 IgG that determines the specificity of the drug.

*** To date this trial has given increasing doses to 24 patients. 



About King’s College London

King's College London is one of the top 10 UK universities in the world (QS World University Rankings, 2018/19) and among the oldest in England. King’s has more than 31,000 students (including more than 12,800 postgraduates) from some 150 countries worldwide, and some 8,500 staff.

King's has an outstanding reputation for world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), eighty-four per cent of research at King’s was deemed ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (3* and 4*).

Since our foundation, King’s students and staff have dedicated themselves in the service of society. King’s will continue to focus on world-leading education, research and service, and will have an increasingly proactive role to play in a more interconnected, complex world. Visit our website to find out more about Vision 2029, King’s strategic vision for the next 12 years to 2029, which will be the 200th anniversary of the founding of the university.  

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About Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development

Cancer Research UK has an impressive record of developing novel treatments for cancer. The Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development has been pioneering the development of new cancer treatments for more than 25 years, taking over 160 potential new anti-cancer agents into clinical trials in patients. It currently has a portfolio of around 20 new anti-cancer agents in preclinical development, Phase I or early Phase II clinical trials. Six of these new agents have made it to market including temozolomide for brain cancer, abiraterone for prostate cancer and rucaparib for ovarian cancer. Two other drugs are in late development Phase III trials.

About the ECMC network

The Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC) network is an initiative funded by Cancer Research UK in partnership with the four health departments of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Launched in 2007 with a total investment by the funders of over £100million, this infrastructure award supports a network of 18 adult centres (of excellence) and 11 paediatric locations throughout the UK. By bringing together world-class scientific and clinical expertise the ECMC network advances the boundaries of cancer care, with over 3,000 patients recruited onto over 400 ECMC-supported trials in 2016-17. Collaboration with Industry is key to the success of the ECMC – in 2016/17 alone, ECMCs leveraged over £80 million from their commercial partnerships. Find out more at or tweet us at @ECMC_UK


About Cancer Research UK


  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


About the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London is one of the first five (of 11) biomedical research centres in England funded by the National Institute of Health Research to help establish the UK's translational biomedical research infrastructure.  With embedded world class core facilities, a range of hosted research organisations and partnerships with industry, this represents the foundation for London’s premier biomedical cluster. We are arranged around four research clusters. For more information visit


About Epsilogen Ltd  (formerly IGEM Therapeutics)

Epsilogen is a global leader in the development of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to treat cancer. IgE has several key features that make it ideal for the treatment of solid tumours including greater potency, enhanced tumour access and a long tissue half-life.

The company has raised Series A finance from Epidarex Capital, ALSA Ventures and the UCL Technology Fund.