Through innovative technologies and collaboration with leading academic institutions, we aim to harness the natural power of the human immune system for the treatment of cancer and infectious complications following hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).
Despite major advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, around 14.1 million patients are diagnosed and 8.2 million die each year worldwide. These statistics powerfully illustrate the need for new breakthroughs in the fight against cancer.
We are developing cellular therapies to address this medical need using two approaches:
For both approaches, we have developed proprietary technologies which use and enhance the properties of immune cells to recognize cancers or viruses and then eliminate them through a normal immune reaction.
Cancers are usually characterized by rapid cell growth. In the early years of cancer research, this rapid growth was used as a marker to recognize cancer cells. Drugs, developed to target and kill all fast growing cells, often lead to undesired side effects, such as hair loss.
Thanks to huge advances in the understanding of the molecular biology of cancers, specific cellular features have been discovered that are associated with certain cancers. These discoveries have allowed for the development of targeted cancer therapies.
We take this approach even further by using living cells as therapy. This approach may bring two advantages:
The challenge for us is to train these cells to recognize and exclusively target the cancer cells and to multiply to the point where there are sufficient cells to form an effective defense.
We basically use two different approaches to generating cells that are capable of recognizing and targeting cancer cells.
We are currently using our T-cellerator® technology to generate investigational cellular therapy products that are capable of recognizing and targeting cancer cells.
Some cancers are strongly linked to viral infections. These viral markers can be found on the surface of the cancer cells and can easily be recognized by T cells, which our immune system generates to fight viral infections. However, these anti-virus immune cells are normally not sufficient in number and their effectiveness may be suppressed by the surrounding tumor tissue.
We have developed the T-cellerator technology to overcome these barriers and to train and expand naturally occurring T cells to fight virus-associated cancers.
Our approach to genetically modifying immune cells
Naturally occurring immune cells are very efficient at treating cancers that are associated with viruses, but many cancers are not virus-associated. To make these cancers treatable by cellular therapies, the immune cells need to be conditioned to recognize new, non-viral targets. We uses two types of gene manipulation to achieve this:
Blood cancers or lymphomas occur when the bone marrow of the patient produces faulty blood cells. A potentially live saving procedure for blood cancers is a transplantation of bone marrow from a healthy donor, also known as allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT).
Before the donor stem cells can be introduced, the patient undergoes a course of high dose chemo and/or radiation therapy. The aim is to eliminate or weaken the patient’s existing immune system and create the right conditions for the donor stem cells to function normally and reproduce.
Once the new stem cells have been introduced, they can become the foundation of a new healthy immune system.
Risks of viral infection
After the treatment is complete, it can take up to a year for the patient’s immune system to fully recover. During this time patients are highly susceptible to viral infections.
Which viruses present the biggest problem?
In the months following an allo-HSCT, the patient will be susceptible to infection by any virus present in the transplanted donor cells. However, the biggest risk comes from dormant or latent viruses that can be present either in the patient’s bloodstream before treatment even begins or can be transplanted together with the allo-HSCT from the donor. Some of the most problematic of these latent viruses are cytomegalovirus (CMV) and adenovirus (ADV).
Why are latent viruses such an issue?
These types of viruses present a particularly high risk to people who have undergone HSCT, because they are very common in adult populations throughout the world. As a result, many patients are already infected by one or more of them prior to treatment.
Once infected, some viruses can remain in the body, but in most cases are rendered harmless by a healthy immune system. However, an HSCT patient’s severely compromised immune system can allow these viruses to go unchecked. If this happens, it can lead to prolonged periods of illness, a range of post-treatment complications and even death.
Virus-Specific Immune Reconstitution
To accelerate recovery of their immune system, the patient can be given T cells that target CMV or ADV. This procedure is generally referred to as virus-specific immune reconstitution (VSIR). The treatment aims to generate an immediate immunity to the targeted virus.
In effect, this is a second transplant, except it consists of mature virus-specific immune cells and not hematopoietic (blood generating) stem cells. Cell Medica derives these T cells from a healthy donor who most often also provided the original stem cells.