Supercharged brain cancer treatment advances to clinical trial

24 May 2023

QIMR Berghofer’s next generation immunotherapy for brain cancer will advance to a phase 1 clinical trial after receiving funding from the prestigious CUREator incubator for the Institute’s biotech spin-out, Cyteph.

CUREator is Australia’s national biotech incubator and the $1.5 million grant to Cyteph will accelerate the development of T cell therapies to treat the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma.

QIMR Berghofer has previously trialled CMV-specific T cell therapies derived from each glioblastoma patient, but the new clinical trial set to begin in October will assess a next generation “off-the-shelf” immunotherapy which can be delivered to the patient much faster.

The ultimate goal is to conduct a further clinical trial within two years of a new engineered T cell therapy that could be a game-changer not only against glioblastoma, but all solid tumours including lung and prostate cancers.

CUREator supports promising Australian biomedical innovations to attract the commercial investment needed to bring a discovery to market and to patients. It is backed by the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and delivered by Australasia’s leading life science venture capital firm Brandon BioCatalyst.

Professor Rajiv Khanna and Dr Paulo Martins

QIMR Berghofer Tumour Immunology Group leader and Cyteph founder Professor Rajiv Khanna AO said the CUREator funding is a big vote of confidence in the therapy.

“It’s hugely exciting to receive this recognition from CUREator because it highlights the significance of what we’ve developed and greatly increases the probability of this treatment becoming available to patients worldwide,” Professor Khanna said.

The new treatment is a supercharged version of an earlier CMV-specific T cell immunotherapy.

“Previously we used a patient’s immune cells to create the therapy which took up to six weeks. Now by using donor cells from healthy volunteers, the therapy is ready ‘off-the-shelf’ within days. That time is crucial when treating a fast growing cancer like glioblastoma,” Professor Khanna said.

The phase 1 clinical trial of this therapy is set to start in October in up to 18 patients in collaboration with neurosurgeon Professor David Walker from the Newro Foundation and Briz Brain & Spine.

The next stage of development is an even more advanced version of the therapy in which the T cells are further armed with Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CAR). The resulting CAR T cells are producing remarkable preclinical results and visibly destroying glioblastoma cell clusters under the microscope.

QIMR Berghofer Research Officer Dr Paulo Martins said the CAR T cells are effectively super armed and can recognise different molecules on the glioblastoma cells, boosting their ability to find and destroy the cancer.

“Glioblastoma is a very aggressive cancer that outsmarts the body’s natural defence systems so normal immune cells fail to spot the cancer.

“We want to make a difference to the way we treat brain cancer and give these patients a fighting chance,” Dr Martins said.

On average, patients with glioblastoma survive just 14 to 17 months after diagnosis.

“The preclinical results are amazing. We’re really hoping it’s a cure,” Dr Martins said.

The goal is to have the advanced ‘off-the-shelf’ CAR T cell therapy for glioblastoma ready for clinical trials in the second half of 2024.

The cell therapy technology also has potential to target other solid tumours such as breast, lung, prostate, bladder, colorectal and gastric cancers, sarcoma and medulloblastoma.

The Cyteph therapies are manufactured at QIMR Berghofer’s cell therapy manufacturing facility Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics.

“We are really uniquely positioned for investors ready to partner with us through our spin-out Cyteph because we offer a complete one-stop-shop,” Professor Khanna said.

“We own the intellectual property, we have developed this platform technology, and we make the cell therapies. You couldn’t get a more comprehensive combination of technology, intellectual know-how, and manufacturing capability.”


Bridie Barry
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