In 2015, NYSTEM initiated its second round of consortium awards, large grants to bring stem cell-based therapies to the clinic. One of these awards went to investigators at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The Roswell Park consortium has developed a method to target ovarian cancer that combines gene therapy using hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) with adoptive T cell therapy. A number of companies have been founded in recent years to commercialize adoptive T cell approaches to fighting cancer. T cells can be genetically modified using a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) or T cell receptor (TCR) to modify T cells. T cells are part of the immune system and the TCR allows them to recognize and kill tumor cells. The Roswell Park consortium uses a novel approach, combining engineering of both HSCs and T cells with TCRs. The engineered T cells provide immediate destruction of tumor, but generally do not persist in the patient indefinitely. Because of their stem cell attributes, the engineered HSCs have the potential to become a long-lasting source of anti-tumor T cells in the body. This two-pronged approach to fighting cancer with engineered HSCs and T cells overcomes a major limitation of current T cell therapies, providing both immediate tumor destruction and long-lasting surveillance.
The Roswell Park team will collect immune system stem cells from a patient, engineer the stem cells to recognize a unique protein on the cancer cells, and infuse these stem cells back into the patient. Once the stem cells engraft in the patient, they should produce “helper” T cells that support long-term immune system recognition of the cancer. The consortium seeks not only to destroy the tumor, but to activate the immune system to prevent the tumor from coming back, as recurrence is frequent in ovarian cancer patients.
The Roswell Park consortium is led by Dr. Kunle Odunsi, Deputy Director, Chair of Gynecologic Oncology and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy at Roswell Park. Dr. Odunsi and consortium co-investigator Dr. Richard Koya, Associate Director of the Center for Immunotherapy at Roswell Park, have now joined forces with long-time biotech executive Matthew Colpoys Jr. to found a new company, Tactiva Therapeutics. Tactiva, launched in February, will be based at the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences in Buffalo. Tactiva is looking to expand upon the consortium’s platform for ovarian cancer to treat other cancers, including pancreatic, prostate and lung cancers, as well as others.
“With this groundbreaking approach, it’s the patient’s own cells —removed, enhanced using emerging technologies and injected back into the patient like an inoculation – that become the cancer treatment. This is personalized medicine at its best. The Tactiva platform would not only overwhelm tumors with a deadly attack but also train the immune system to remember how to keep cancer cells at bay and generate an enduring response,” says Dr. Odunsi. “We are now in the early stages of exploring this multipronged strategy and assessing how effective it is in patients, but we hope that this combination of technologies and approaches will translate to meaningful improvements for patients.”
The Roswell Park consortium is supported by NYSTEM contract C030158.
Read Roswell Park’s press release on the launch of Tactiva here.
Find out more about Tactiva here.