- Swiss pharma Novartis AG is teaming up with researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Wyss Institute and the Dana-Farber Institute on a project to further develop the academic group's biomaterial-based cancer immunotherapy technology.
- The tech may help with promoting immune memory, as the 3D biomaterials transport cell-recruiting cargo to summon host dendritic cells to more efficiently present tumor antigens to the warriors of the immune system.
- Under the deal, Novartis will secure worldwide rights to the technology in "target-specific applications" and also aims to utilize Wyss' platform in developing second-generation cancer immunotherapies, including combination treatments.
Everyone could use a little extra help — even the immune system. That's the idea behind Harvard and Novartis' latest agreement, which will focus on pairing promising immunomodulatory candidates In Novartis' pipeline with novel aspirin-sized structures made of biomaterials that are believed to help immunotherapies better battle offending antigens.
Harvard's Office of Technology Development arranged the deal on behalf of Harvard University, Dana-Farber, and the University of Michigan, who are owners or co-owners of the novel constructs.
The carrier systems, which are either implantable or injectable, are made of biodegradable materials.
"We have demonstrated that these biomaterials can be easily delivered to patients, provide sustained and local release of immune-modulating factors, and bypass the need for modification of cells outside the body. This concept has led to a very promising platform for cancer immunotherapy," said David Mooney, Wyss Core Faculty member and lead of the Immuno-Materials initiative at the Wyss Institute.
Mooney developed the biodegradable medical polymer which will be infused with inactivated antigens from a patient's own tumor cells. The construct, loaded with autologous material, draws from the same principle of CAR-T constructs, which are engineered to stimulate the immune system to react more efficiently. But, unlike CAR-T cells, which are modified outside of the body and reinjected, Mooney's scaffolds bypass the need for ex vivo modification. Nevertheless, Mooney is also working on biomaterials for the ex vivo expansion of T cells in an unrelated project.
The scaffolds are loaded with immunostimulatory molecules and inactivated "self" tumor antigens. After activation, the dendritic cells travel to the lymph nodes, where it teaches T cells what to fight.
The novel construct will function much like a cancer vaccine might, preparing the body to recognize and fight off cancerous intruders. The shell itself is made from the same material as dissolvable sutures.
News of the collaboration follows a successful preclinical trial using the scaffold, headed by Mooney and Glenn Dranoff, who at the time of the work was a Wyss Institute Associate Faculty member but is now global head of exploratory immuno-oncology at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.
In preclinical trials, the team showed the cancer vaccine could target several different antigens and cancer types, and provided some protection against new relapse in animal models.
Although Novartis did not respond to an inquiry about what targets it plans to pursue in combination with Harvard's engineered asset, and what investigational agents it might pair with the biomaterial, it is already conducting a trial examining an autologous tumor vaccine in mantle cell lymphoma with the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.