Immuno-Oncology: From Science Fiction to the Mainstream

In just a couple of decades, immuno-oncology has taken center stage in the biotechnology industry. At our most recent online meetup, we discussed the evolution of the field with experts who have been in it from the very beginning.

While immuno-oncology is one of the hottest areas of medicine at the moment, that wasn’t the case 20 years ago. 

Back in the year 2000, Harpreet Singh was completing a PhD in immunology. Together with two colleagues, he co-founded Immatics, a company in Germany that develops cancer immunotherapies.  

“Immuno-oncology didn’t really exist then. Actually, I don’t think the word immuno-oncology existed at that point,” said Singh. “I remember meeting with a pharma company and they said our T-cell technology was homeopathy, that ‘this will never work, it’s just too weak.’”

It was not the best time to start a pioneering company. “When we finally had a business plan in 2002, enthusiasm in the biotech industry had just collapsed in Europe,” Singh explained. “This was a complete disaster for biotechnology. Lots of companies died, no one was around to invest.”

Still, the team persevered and managed to find their first investor two years later. This was no mean feat back when most investors did not trust the promise of immuno-oncology. 

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