Major development for cancer-killing ‘Masterswitch’ discovery

30 May 2023

QIMR Berghofer’s ‘Masterswitch’ technology that unleashes the immune system against two deadly types of cancer is a critical step closer to the clinic with the Institute’s biotech spin-out Fovero Therapeutics receiving prestigious CUREator funding.

CUREator is Australia’s national biotech incubator and the $500,000 investment in Fovero Therapeutics will help QIMR Berghofer’s Group Leader of Molecular Immunology Associate Professor Michelle Wykes, conduct final due diligence before the technology can be commercialised in readiness for clinical trials.

The remarkable ‘Masterswitch’ technology was the subject of a major QIMR Berghofer public fundraising appeal which helped A/Prof Wykes elevate her research to the attention of CUREator.

The ‘Masterswitch’ is an antibody that has produced remarkable pre-clinical results against triple-negative breast cancer and the most common form of bowel cancer, Micro Satellite Stable (MSS) bowel cancer.

Treatment options and outcomes for patients with these diseases are currently very poor.

image of female scientist Michelle Wykes with dark medium length hair wearing a white lab coat and standing beside a microscope in the laboratory

Associate Professor Michelle Wykes

A/Professor Wykes’s discovery turns on a key type of immune cell called dendritic cells which in turn activate the body’s critical T cells to recognise and attack cancer.

“Cancer cells are very good at hiding from the immune system but our ‘Masterswitch’ antibodies make the cancers visible again, so the dendritic cells can go back to work and ‘organise’ the T cells to kill the cancer,” A/Prof Wykes said.

Further testing of the “Masterswitch” antibodies on cancer patient blood samples produced similar results to the testing in pre-clinical models.

“We’re seeing palpable tumours that completely disappear and melt away. In our pre-clinical lab models, 80 per cent of both the triple negative breast cancers and bowel cancers were cleared and hadn’t grown back after ten months. We’re seeing similar results from our tests on samples taken from patients with bowel cancer,” she said.

The second round of funding from CUREator awarded $12 million to 19 projects targeting global health challenges including advances in treatment for lupus, motor neurone disease, brain and ovarian cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.

CUREator is delivered through an initial $40m in funding from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and $3m from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. CUREator was established by Brandon Capital in 2021 as a new approach for bridging the gap between where research grant funding ends and commercial investment begins.

CUREator works closely with project teams to guide them through the early development phase, offering both scientific and commercial expertise and networks to support projects in meeting key commercial milestones. Funding is provided with clear milestone-driven tranches and help is provided to guide development of these assets and maximise their chance of success.


Bridie Barry
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