Professor Rajiv Khanna AO, Senior Scientist and founding coordinator of QIMR Berghofer’s Centre for Immunotherapy and Vaccine development, is an industry leader in the revolutionary field of immunology.
“Immunotherapy is a field that is completely revolutionising the treatment of cancer and other diseases and QIMR Berghofer is at the cutting edge,” Professor Khanna said.
Scientists have known for some time that a type of white blood cell, known as a T cell, supports the body’s immune function: immunotherapy harnesses the power of these T cells.
As part of a licensing deal, QIMR Berghofer is collaborating with San-Francisco-based Cellevolve Bio, a development and commercialisation company focused on cell therapies, to further develop and manufacture cellular immunotherapies for John Cunningham (JC) and BK polyomaviruses, both of which can cause life-threatening complications in immunocompromised patients. The therapy was initially developed in the lab of Professor Khanna.
Cellevolve Bio will initially focus on immunotherapy for the JC virus (JCV). More than 80 per cent of the world’s population is infected with JCV and experience no side effects. However, it can be activated in some people whose immune systems are compromised, either due to underlying diseases or immunosuppressive medication.
Under these conditions, JCV infects the brain’s white matter, leading to severe damage to the material that protects nerve cells. This highly debilitating and often fatal disease is referred to as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).
“Rapidly progressing illnesses such as PML require safe, efficacious and speedy treatments since the longer patients wait, the more debilitating the outcome,” said Derrell Porter, MD, MBA, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Cellevolve Bio.
“We are honoured to partner with a scientist with Professor Khanna’s experience in cell therapy to advance ‘off-the-shelf’ cellular therapies for grievous illnesses with an initial therapeutic focus on PML,” said Dr Porter.
Cellevolve Bio will commercialise the JCV immunotherapy product, initially conducting a clinical trial. Both organisations have signed research and manufacturing agreements for process development and production of the therapy at QIMR Berghofer’s cell manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics. Professor Khanna will oversee the JCV immunotherapy product’s development.
The ‘off-the-shelf’ cellular therapy will be developed using donor immune cells that will be ‘trained’ to target and combat diseased cells and destroy the viruses.
“We are at a transformative stage in science and discovery, where we are able to harness the power of the body’s immune response to treat diseases caused by viral infections”, Professor Khanna said. “We are thrilled to partner with Derrell and the Cellevolve team on a shared goal to take our JC Virus Specific T Cells into clinical development and hopefully create a new treatment paradigm for PML.”
The COVID-19 global pandemic was, and continues to be, an unprecedented health emergency. QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute was established 75 years ago to research terrible infectious and tropical diseases plaguing Queensland and our near neighbours. Today we have the most advanced and secure biosecurity laboratory in Queensland, specifically designed to safely research deadly viruses like COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. This is the only laboratory in Queensland that holds the virus on-site for testing.
At this most concerning time, QIMR Berghofer scientists have taken up the challenge and are embarking on urgently needed COVID-19 research across a range of areas, including the establishment of a high security biocontainment facility equipped to test novel therapeutic and diagnostic approaches using various customised mouse models and cell lines in Professor Andreas Suhrbier’s lab group.
Professor Andreas Suhrbier is part of our world-class team of clinicians, virologists and immunologists who are at the forefront of infectious diseases research. For example, Professor Suhrbier is a renowned international expert on Ebola and Zika virus.
Professor Andreas Suhrbier’s group has set up critical capabilities to enable pre-clinical development and testing of novel therapeutic and diagnostic approaches against COVID-19 for internal and external projects. Professor Suhrbier has established different transgenic hACE2 mouse models. By way of example, Andreas’s team is testing a novel vaccine candidate developed by Professor Bernd Rehm’s team at Griffith University.
His team is also collaborating with Australian biotech BioCifer Pty Ltd.
Founded in 2016, BioCifer is a private company based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. BioCifer’s core focus is on the detection of pathogen genomes using accurate, simple, low-cost kits suitable for point-of-care and in-field use. By actively developing and applying its novel approach to molecular genetics, BioCifer aims to save millions of lives and transform communities through the rapid detection of viruses and diseases.
Disease detection is of paramount global importance, yet the technology is such that most rapid assays only detect a single entity. Many diseases have similar symptoms, and effective treatment requires the correct biomarkers to be identified and monitored.
BioCifer develops assays that detect pathogens in a simple, easy-to-use platform. Our technology uses lateral flow assay technology, much like the at-home pregnancy test. BioCifer provides the technical capability to combine reagents from multiple researchers and industries, produce prototype devices, and validate their effectiveness for disease detection.
BioCifer’s general product portfolio is relevant to medical point-of-care diagnostics, as well as veterinary, agricultural and environmental diagnostics.
The Inflammation Biology Group has developed, refined and characterised a number of mouse models used to gain new insights into the factors that regulate viral infection and inflammatory disease. The models are also exploited for collaborative research and development with industry to test potential new interventions (e.g. vaccines, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-viral agents).
The group has over 25 years of activity in improving our understanding of the immunopathogenesis of the diseases cause by arthritogenic alphaviruses such as chikungunya virus and Ross River virus. We have also developed mouse models of Zika virus (foetal brain infection and testes damage) and Yellow fever virus liver pathology, which have been used in the development of vaccines and characterisation of pathogenic determinants.
Very recently, we repurposed a PC3 laboratory and have started to undertake research into SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 using transgenic hACE2 mice.