Lentigen and U Penn pursue cell-based cancer therapies

Lentigen will collaborate with UPenn's Dr. James Riley to develop novel cancer therapies.

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BALTIMORE—Lentiviral vec­tor developer and manufac­turer Lentigen Corp. recently announced the signing of a collaborative research agree­ment with the University of Pennsylvania, under which Lentigen will work with Dr. James Riley of the university's medical school in developing novel cancer therapies. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Lentigen noted that it will be granted exclusive rights to com­mercialize products resulting from the research.
The work focuses on co-stim­ulatory pathways that control human T cell activation and differentiation, with one of the major areas of interest being sig­nal transduction pathways ini­tiated by members of the CD28 family—specifically CD28, ICOS, CTLA-4, PD-1 and BTLA. Although they have structural similarity, these receptors have distinct roles in modulating the immune system. The initial work of the col­laboration aims to use the knowl­edge of T cell signaling pathways to design novel cancer therapeu­tics, primarily for treatment of B cell malignancies, such as leuke­mia and lymphoma, and ovarian or peritoneal cancer. However, the potential drug discovery targets could extend to non-oncology indi­cations in the future.
"Immunotherapy for cancer is becoming a commonplace second-line, and in certain cases, first-line adjunct therapy," notes Dr. Carl H. June, director of transla­tional research at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania and a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at U Penn, where Riley's laboratory is locat­ed. "The work developed by Penn in collaboration with Lentigen is a cellular-based immunotherapy and will add to the immunother­apy options available to patients with relapsed or refractory can­cer. Cellular-based therapies offer the promise of durability and less toxicity than presently available cancer treatments."
Partnering with Lentigen was important, June says, because advancements in their products now offer researchers the neces­sary flexibility for preclinical- to clinical-grade lentiviral vectors. "This allows Penn to utilize their vectors for preclinical research," he explains, "and when the research is ready for clinical development, Lentigen can rapidly transition the vector production to clinical-grade to enable its application."
June adds that one of the critical challenges of the research will be to identify tumor antigens that are not expressed in healthy tissue, in order to avoid toxicity. A key part of this work of finding efficacious and non-toxic therapies relies on the generation of universal tumor-specific T cell receptors, otherwise known as chimeric immune recep­tors (CIRs) or T-bodies. By helping researchers find "universal recep­tors" that can be used across all patients with common tumor anti­gens, this research can "open the door for [a CIR] approach against a variety of tumor antigens, allowing the field to determine optimal anti­gens for each cancer," June says.
Extensive research has been invested into discovery of tumor-specific antigens, so fusing the CIR approach with work in targeting various tumor antigens should evolve quickly, June says. "If the CIR approach developed at Penn is found to be effective and durable, it is likely that the first CIR may be brought to market within the next seven to 10 years."

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