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In fast-growing KRAS field, this oncology veteran is chasing the toughest cancer targets

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Loïc Vincent watched his mother face cancer three times: Once in 1988 when he was 12 years old, and then again in 1996 and 2012.

During her third battle with the disease, Vincent was already well into his career as an oncology scientist and was head of pharmacology for Sanofi’s oncology drug development and preclinical development team. Despite having early hope his mother would once again beat cancer, Vincent soon learned differently.

“I knew there was no therapeutic options for my mom,” he said. “So she went into all of this palliative chemotherapy that extends your life a little bit, but the quality of your life is really poor. That was the most painful experience of my life.”

Vincent spent nine years at Sanofi and nearly five years at Takeda, where he eventually headed up its oncology drug discovery and immunology units. Over the course of his career, he said his teams advanced more than 20 oncology drugs in the clinic.

Vincent was happy at Takeda and not looking to jump ship, but was drawn to Affini-T Therapeutics in August 2021 by its strong scientific foundation and ambitious goal to use T cell receptor engineered T cell (TCR-T) therapies for oncology targets such as KRAS.

“Targets matter a lot in cancer. If you go after oncogenic drivers you have the opportunity to eradicate tumor cells in a much more efficient manner.”

Loïc Vincent

Chief scientific officer, Affini-T Therapeutics

Although it’s one of the most common gene mutations linked to cancer, KRAS was believed to be undruggable for decades. All that changed in May 2021, when the FDA granted accelerated approval to the first KRAS-targeted therapy, Amgen’s Lumakras. In December 2022, Mirati Therapeutics received accelerated approval for its KRAS inhibitor, Krazati. Now, other companies are attempting to follow in those footsteps, including Eli Lilly and Genentech

Now as chief scientific officer at Affini-T, Vincent is advancing the company’s precision immunotherapy approach to targeting core oncogenic driver mutations and developing durable therapies for solid tumors. Affini-T has three preclinical programs targeting KRAS G12V and KRAS G12D and several others in discovery.

Throughout his career, Vincent said he’s been acutely aware that when it comes to cancer treatments, the clock is always ticking for patients.

“Patients don’t have time. So we as scientists advancing drugs should think about this,” he said. “We shouldn’t forget in biotech and pharma (about) trying to have this sense of urgency.”

He said he’s also at the point in his career where he wants to work on drugs he believes could be truly “transformative.”

“At my age — I’m 47 — I don’t want to work on me-too drugs,” he said. “After two years, we are a few weeks away from our first IND submission … we are going to be a clinical stage company. I have goosebumps as I’m talking to you. We are going to advance those programs to patients in the coming months, which is really exciting for the company, but more importantly for the patients who are waiting for novel therapeutic options.”

Here, Vincent discusses his leadership philosophy and what makes Affini-T’s work stand out.

This interview has been edited for brevity and style.

PHARMAVOICE: Affini-T is going after challenging cancers. Is that intentional?

LOÏC VINCENT: Yes. If you look at the field of targets and indications, a lot of pharmas and even biotechs work on what I call the ‘usual suspect’ targets that you know can work in the clinic. What we want to do at Affini-T is work on the most difficult targets. Targets matter a lot in cancer. If you go after oncogenic drivers you have the opportunity to eradicate tumor cells in a much more efficient manner as opposed to other targets.

And (as far as) the most challenging cancers, this is what we have to do. If you look at some indications now in 2023, there are plenty of therapies available for patients … and cancer is becoming a chronic disease.

For some other cancers there are no therapeutic options. We think about how we can have the greatest impact on patients by going after those very difficult, hard to treat indications. At Affini-T, we want to change the paradigm and set up a new way of treatment for patients.

How is Affini-T’s approach different?

When you see all the progress that is happening, almost every month, there’s a lot of hope for patients not only in cancer, in all therapeutic areas, even rare diseases.

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