A Melbourne-based start-up spun out of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre has raised $10 million for the further development of its novel cancer immunotherapy that targets solid tumours such as breast and pancreatic cancers.
The Brandon Capital Partners-managed Medical Research Commercialisation Fund led the investment into biotech Currus Biologics, along with university commercialisation fund Uniseed,
The fresh funds will support Currus’ commercial development of its proprietary technology used in animal studies into humans and based on research from the Peter MacCallum – a first investor-led spinout from the centre’s research.
Currus chief executive Sam Cobb said human clinical trials are still about two years away but it is an exciting time for scientists to see their technology go from the bench and translate into a product that can get into people.
“The $10 million that we’ve raised from Brandon Capital and Uniseed will be used to generate those products that can be used in human clinical trials,” Ms Cobb told The Australian Financial Review.
“So initially our funding will be to create that product, and then we’ll need to go out and raise more money for the clinical trial itself.”
Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Centre was responsible for performing the country’s first CAR-T trial in 2007.
CAR-T cell therapy works by extracting a patient’s T-cells, which play a critical role in immunity. In the lab, these T-cells are genetically engineered to produce chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that can be used to specifically seek out and destroy cancer cells after infusion back into the patient.
Currus is combining its proprietary Bispecific Engagers of Antigen Presenting Cells and T cells (BEAT) technology with CAR-T cells.
CAR-T therapy, which has proved revolutionary in the treatment of advanced blood-borne cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma, has been less successful at treating the solid tumours that make up 90 per cent of all cancers.
Professor Michael Kershaw, head of the immune innovation laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Centre, said these cells all work in collaboration and this was a concept he and his team had worked on for more than a decade.
“This concept stemmed from a vaccine sort of approach to the CAR-T cells. Then we hit on the idea of using a bi-specific reagent that led to the formulation of a concept that we could actually use a bi-specific antibody. I’d say it’s the most exciting project that I’ve been involved with,” he said.
A bi-specific antibody is an artificial protein that can combine two different types of antigens at the same time, to jump-start an immune response in the body. The BEAT is a bi-specific antibody.
Professor Kershaw explained that T-cells are used to encountering other blood cells, which is simpler to infiltrate than solid mass tumour. He was involved in the first reported CAR-T clinical trial while completing his post-doctorate at the US National Institutes of Health, and subsequently brought advances in technology back to Australia.
He led the BEAT research team along with Clare Slaney, a senior research fellow at the Peter MacCallum Centre.
“Our research findings in animal models indicate that one infusion of the treatment is expected to be effective in the treatment of solid tumours,” Professor Kershaw added.
There is significant global interest in how CAR-T therapies can be used to target the full spectrum of cancers.
Chimeric Therapeutics is undertaking CAR-T cell therapy human clinical trial in safety and tolerability at the City of Hope cancer treatment and research centre near Los Angeles.
ASX-listed immuno-oncology company Imugene last month penned a licensing patent deal with the City of Hope for its combined two potent immunotherapies: Imugene’s CD19 oncolytic virus and CD19 CAR-T cell therapy.
Imugene chief executive Leslie Chong told the Financial Review using CAR-Ts therapy to combat solid tumours has been “the dream and the goal of every pharma company in the world”.
Australian Financial Review
28 June, 2021