Katka Franke

“We really like the vision of the Hid”

Hid tenant Frame Therapeutics develops on a novel cancer treatment based on personalised immunotherapies. The young start-up is like a duck takes to water on the Hid campus, not least because of the presence of Sanquin’s sophisticated laboratories.

“There is a huge medical need for better therapies for cancer”

Conventional cancer treatment often consists of surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Frame Therapeutics is working on a novel treatment based on immunotherapy, that teaches the own immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. Katka Franke, Senior Scientist Immunology at the company, explains: “Thanks to next generation whole genome sequencing technology, it is now possible to quickly identify the differences between the genomes of healthy cells and those of tumour cells. Tumour cells evolve by modifications (mutations) of our own cells. These mutations are expressed by so-called ‘neoantigens’, incomplete or flawed proteins on the surface of a cell. Using Frame’s proprietary method, we study how the immune system can identify and attack the specific tumour cells based on these neoantigens.”

Personalised vaccine
Frame Therapeutics is working on a vaccine to provide personalised treatment for cancer patients. Katka: “Each patient has very specific tumour cells. Within two weeks after we receive a biopsy of a patient’s tumour, we can make a complete analysis of the DNA and RNA of those cells. We then mix part of the tumour protein (a so-called peptide) in a personalised vaccine which boosts the immune system and teaches it to target those unique neoantigens that it has previously failed to adequately respond to.”

Clinical trials
It will take time before cancer patients can be treated with a Frame vaccine. Katka: “Developing a completely novel treatment requires patience. On average, the development takes about ten years. In collaboration with three Dutch academic hospitals, we hope to start recruiting patients for our first clinical trial in lung cancer in late 2021. Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers and has unfortunately a limited treatment success rate. This underscores the huge medical need for developing better therapies for this disease. The clinical study will be performed in patients who fail on the current standard of treatment, for whom no other established effective treatment options are available and who would like to participate in a clinical trial.”

“Sanquin’s vision and ambition to jointly acquire and exchange knowledge in order to come up with new health care solutions, appeals to us”

Frame’s head office is located at the Science Park in Amsterdam-Oost. The expansion in the Hid in Amsterdam-West was the result of the company’s search for specific immunological research laboratories. “Today, we are still too small to build such expensive facilities ourselves,” says Katka. “I was familiar with Sanquin’s high-quality laboratories because I did my doctoral research at Sanquin Research, followed by a postdoctoral position. I have heard from former colleagues about the plans to set up a campus with other companies. We have agreed with Sanquin that we can use several facilities, such as the flow cytometers in the central facility of Sanquin Research. That is important equipment for our experiments. The proximity of Sanquin is also convenient because of the blood cells we use for our research.”

Lively vibe
As a tenant from the very beginning, Frame Therapeutics is very pleased with its workplace at the Hid. Katka: “We are allowed to use Sanquin’s existing infrastructure. Also, for us it is convenient that the Netherlands Cancer Institute is around the corner. Many more start-ups will soon settle in the Hid which will make it a vibrant and dynamic environment. Because of the coronavirus, we have not had much contact with the other tenants yet. However, the idea behind the Hid is that it becomes more than a collection of buildings where people can rent space. Sanquin really puts its faith in jointly acquiring and exchanging knowledge and to come up with concrete new solutions for the health care sector. We very much appreciate that. The same goes for the plans to expand the Sanquin Academy for external participants. The courses I have followed at the Academy have always been of high-quality. And who knows Hid occupants might be able to organise conferences and other events together in the future.”