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Queensland Government invests $1.4 million to support clinical trials and jobs growth

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has expanded its collaboration with US biopharmaceutical company Atara Biotherapeutics, entering into major agreements to manufacture and develop cellular immunotherapies for multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

QIMR Berghofer secured the deal thanks to a $1.4 million funding injection from the Queensland Government to expand and upgrade the Institute’s world-class, regulatory-approved cell therapy manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics.

The deal with Atara will allow world-first clinical trials to be established locally and in the United States and Europe, giving Queenslanders access to cutting-edge medical treatments.

Under the agreement, Q-Gen will manufacture the immunotherapies for the clinical trials, including those using patients’ own immune cells and others using cells from healthy donors.

QIMR Berghofer and Atara have also extended an existing agreement to collaborate on research and development of new T cell immunotherapies for cancers and autoimmune disorders associated with a number of viruses.

Queensland’s Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, Cameron Dick, said the two agreements would support approximately 40 full-time jobs at QIMR Berghofer and Q-Gen.

“Through our government’s support, QIMR Berghofer can now expand its cell therapy facility Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics, including purchasing specialised laboratory equipment,” he said.

“As a result of this facility upgrade, Atara has agreed to extend its agreement with QIMR Berghofer to collaborate on research and development of new immunotherapies for cancers and autoimmune disorders associated with a number of viruses.

“The two agreements will support 40 full-time jobs at QIMR Berghofer and its Q-Gen facility at Herston as well as grow QIMR Berghofer’s reputation as a world-leader in the immunotherapy field.

“Our government’s investment will strengthen our state’s push into the sophisticated advanced manufacturing of cell therapy products by enabling QIMR Berghofer to secure agreements and attract additional cell therapy manufacturing from not only Atara, but also other biomedical and pharmaceutical companies.

“Projects like this underpin the Queensland Biomedical 10-Year Roadmap and Action Plan, which was developed in close consultation with industry to diversify Queensland’s industry base, create high-value knowledge-based jobs of the future and drive export growth for the industry by 2027.”

The Minister for Health Steven Miles said immunotherapy had emerged as the “fourth pillar” of cancer treatment, along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“Immunotherapy works by training the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer and other harmful cells,” he said.

“These agreements put Queensland’s biomedical capabilities on the world stage.”

Atara has also exercised its option under an existing licence agreement with QIMR Berghofer to an exclusive, worldwide licence to develop and commercialise a specific T cell immunotherapy that “turbo charges” a patient’s immune cells to treat autoimmune conditions associated with the Epstein-Barr virus, such as multiple sclerosis.

All of the immunotherapies were developed by the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Tumour Immunology Laboratory, Professor Rajiv Khanna AO, and his team.

Professor Khanna said the agreements with Atara were a win for Queensland patients.

“We are delighted to partner with Atara and the Queensland Government to bring much-needed new T cell immunotherapies to patients,” he said.

“We are very excited by the possibility that in future, we might be able to offer new treatment options to patients with certain virus-associated cancers and autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO, Professor Frank Gannon, said the Queensland Government’s funding was a major boost for advanced manufacturing in the state.

“Q-Gen is the one of the largest dedicated cell therapy manufacturing facilities in Australia,” he said.

“It is already a world-class facility that has secured regulatory approval to manufacture immunotherapies for clinical trials in Australia and the United States. It will now be upgraded to also manufacture for clinical trials in Europe and to meet the demand created by this deal with Atara.

“The Queensland Government’s support will allow us to expand our cell therapy manufacturing program, providing a major boost for Queensland’s biotech sector.”

Atara’s Global Head of Research and Development, Dr Dietmar Berger, said he was excited about the collaboration with QIMR Berghofer and increasing biotechnology development in the region.

“Atara is delighted that the Queensland Government is supporting QIMR Berghofer, as well as the growth of the biotechnology community in Queensland,” he said.