François Romagné

Three questions for François Romagné, co-founder of Innate Pharma, and current Chief Scientific Officer of MI-mAbs, the new immunotechnology platform at Aix Marseille University.

What is your view today of Innate Pharma as founder of the company?

Fundamental research has helped to unravel the mechanisms of action of the immune system and to reveal the potential for therapeutic interventions. Innate Pharma’s deep roots in this science, primarily through its founders, have supported the development of the company. We used the ideas and discoveries of the founders as a foundation to develop therapeutics.

Since 1999, Innate has been developing some of the original ideas and has accumulated deep experience in developing new products with this exciting DNA.

In the field of NK cells, several products from this early research are now in clinical development, such as IPH4102, whose receptor and antibody were initially discovered by Alessandro Moretta, co-founder of Innate. It was a collaboration between Alessandro and Dr. Armand Bensussan, director of research at Inserm, that developed the concept. A further collaboration with Professor Martine Bagot, head of the dermatology department of the Saint-Louis Hospital, enabled the targeting of cutaneous T cell lymphomas.

I want to add that we could not have developed a company like Innate without being a cohesive team. Competition is very tough and drug development is fraught with pitfalls. Good ideas, good funding and a very strong and unified team are essential in the initial stages.

What can you tell us about the technological developments associated with Immunotherapeutic R&D at Innate Pharma?

Regarding the development of antibody technology, we have learned a lot and the team continues to learn alongside pharmaceutical partners, first Novo Nordisk, then Bristol Myers-Squibb and today AstraZeneca. From them, we have acquired important and valuable expertise in the engineering of monoclonal antibodies and in the clinical development of these antibodies, particularly in large clinical trials. The team has also learned a lot through accumulated experience and by recruiting new talent.

Early on, Innate was interested in antibody technologies that come out of "classic" monoclonal antibodies, namely bispecific antibodies and ADC (Antibody-Drug Conjugate) conjugates that pair antibodies and toxins. ADCs make it possible to increase the effectiveness of a conventional antibody, since they are capable of bringing cytotoxic molecules into cancer cells, using "antibodies" that specifically recognize these cells as "vehicles". The bispecific antibodies bind on the one hand to an antigen on the surface of the tumor cells, and on the other hand to a receptor on the immune cells. This binding triggers the activation and destruction of the tumor cells by the NK cells. Bispecific antibodies are the subject of an ongoing collaboration between Innate Pharma and Sanofi.

Today, these technologies are also being developed in collaboration with the Mi-mAbs immunotechnology platform.

You are today at the head of this platform, what can you tell us about MI-mAbs and its connection with Innate?

Here at Innate, and with our academic collaborators, especially local, we had the strong desire to create a reference platform, useful for the community and of course for the Marseille Immunopole ecosystem. From the beginning there was synergy between Innate and MI-mAbs, the first bringing its experience, and the latter contributing today to further developments at Innate. Today, MI-mAbs serves academics, biotechs and pharma companies and continues to support Innate's projects.

On the technological development side, we have continued concentrating on monoclonal antibody engineering and we are taking advantage of the state-of-the-art technology boom, which allows faster development and better quality products. In parallel, we are working on the much earlier technologies of bispecifics and ADCs where the engineering is very different. We are learning a lot about these new formats from big companies. These antibody formats are the future of new products as they open up new potential applications.

These new technologies represent new challenges but are very exciting avenues for future pathways. Their complexity makes them more expensive but essential for new applications inaccessible to monoclonal antibodies which will remain the new "basic" drug.