LOS ANGELES—ImmunoCellular Therapeutics Ltd. has begun a sponsored research agreement with Dr. Cassian Yee of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, an internationally recognized researcher and leading expert in the identification and isolation of cytotoxic T cells. Yee is a professor in the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology, Division of Cancer Medicine, as well as in the Department of Immunology, Division of Cancer Medicine, in addition to being director of Solid Tumor Cell Therapy at MD Anderson's Center for Cancer Immunology Research.
Yee will seek to identify T cells that strongly bind and kill tumor cells that express an undisclosed target antigen, and the T cell receptors will then be sequenced, with their corresponding DNA placed into stem cells to create preclinical therapeutic candidates for further evaluation. The goal of this agreement is to build a clinical program based on hematopoietic stem cells isolated from a patient, engineered in the lab and then returned to the patient to create antigen-specific killer T cells capable of targeting and killing tumors. ImmunoCellular's Stem-to-T-cell platform technology can aid in overcoming the short-lived T cell responses seen in existing forms of T cell and CAR-T therapies.
"The work on which Dr. Yee and ImmunoCellular are collaborating is both exciting in what it represents for immuno-oncology, and potentially groundbreaking, as it has not previously been accomplished on a large scale," Dr. Steven Swanson, senior vice president of research at ImmunoCellular, said in a press release. "The identification of novel TCR sequences for application in stem cells has the potential to launch this program toward clinical testing. We are privileged to be working with an immune-oncologist of Dr. Yee's stature, and believe that this work has the potential to position our Stem-to-T-cell program as one of the most promising in the industry."
The Stem-to-T-cell program, which is based on technology in-licensed from Caltech in 2014, is designed to harness the immune system for directed, highly antigen-specific tumor killing. It begins with hematopoietic stem cells that are engineered in the lab, so that when they are reintroduced to the body, they divide into themselves and into daughter cells, which are antigen-specific killer T cells. The identification and selection of a T cell receptor that can bind to tumor cells is important, as that receptor is what is transferred into the hematopoietic stem cells and allow the stem cells to produce cytotoxic T cells. Given the 'immortality' of stem cells, the reengineered stem cells could become a natural, perpetual source of cancer-targeting T cells.
"With our lead Phase 3 program ICT-107 underway and financed, we are now focusing additional resources and attention on moving our Stem-to-T-cell program toward clinical development," commented Andrew Gengos, CEO of ImmunoCellular, in a statement. "Our collaboration with Dr. Yee and MD Anderson is an important step in our efforts to build a leading cancer immunotherapy company, and we look forward to potentially establishing more collaborations and bringing additional promising technologies into ImmunoCellular."
SOURCE: ImmunoCellular press release