Bear’s Den at HMH making equity investment in company developing new way to fight cancer

Innovative concept by Boston-based Alloplex Biotherapeutics ‘trains’ patients to use own white blood cells in treatment

When Hackensack Meridian Health created the Bear’s Den innovation program, it did so with an eye toward finding and supporting transformational health care initiatives in biotech and pharma companies that will drive medical science forward — wherever they can be found.

The latest Bear’s Den investment proves the point.

On Wednesday, HMH announced its support of the clinical development of a highly differentiated immuno-oncology platform by Boston-based Alloplex Biotherapeutics. In simpler terms, Alloplex has refined cellular drug candidates aimed at “training’’ a patient’s white blood cells to recognize and to kill cancer cells.

The company is poised to start a first-in-human clinical trial of SUPLEXA therapeutic cells early next year — in Australia.

HMH CEO Bob Garrett said the group is thrilled be able to help a potential breakthrough treatment.

“The Bear’s Den is foundational to our efforts to transform health care and deliver more value to the communities we serve,” he said.

“Innovation is in our DNA. We are proud to support this promising new treatment concept.”

Dr. Frank Borriello, Alloplex’s CEO and scientific founder, said he is happy to have the partnership.

“Hackensack Meridian Health’s investment represents a significant vote of confidence in our highly-differentiated approach to cellular therapy,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the investment, which not only supports our initial clinical trials but also establishes a foundation for collaboration in the years ahead.”

SUPLEXA therapeutic cells are an autologous therapy made from activated and reprogrammed peripheral blood mononuclear cells — derived from the patient’s whole blood.

About the Bear’s Den

Launched in 2017, the Bear’s Den features a panel of experts, including Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett, leading physicians, key network executives, venture capitalists and patent attorneys, who gather regularly to vet proposals from entrepreneurs. The health network’s novel incubator has vetted many products and strategies to streamline care delivery, reduce infections, lower hospital readmissions and help patients partner in their care with physicians. Thus far, it has made five investments.

SUPLEXA are generated rapidly and in abundance through a robust ex vivo manufacturing procedure to give them the capacity to kill all tumor cells tested — without affecting normal cells.

SUPLEXA are comprised of a heterogenous mixture of cells of both innate and adaptive phenotypes, thereby employing a multimodal antitumor strategy. The company believes, by using the patient’s own cells activated through naturally occurring receptors rather than external substances, this therapy may be better tolerated than using foreign substances, while maximizing anticancer effects.

Alloplex was founded in 2016 by Borriello, a Harvard-trained immunologist with more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to Alloplex, Borriello led the search and evaluation function in multiple pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, the chief research officer and president of the Northern Region at HMH, said SUPLEXA is a perfect fit for Bear’s Den.

“Hackensack Meridian Health is interested in pushing innovation forward, not just through our own considerable research efforts, but also through investments of this caliber,” he said.