Darrell Irvine. MIT

Su­per­charg­ing CAR-T with can­cer vac­cine, MIT team spot­lights some new tech un­der­pin­ning Dar­rell Irvine's start­up

Many of the ef­forts to im­prove on the first gen­er­a­tion of CAR-T ther­a­pies such that they can reach sol­id tu­mors had fo­cused on tweaks in­her­ent to the can­cer-killing agent — specif­i­cal­ly, uti­liz­ing more po­tent T cells as their base, from stem mem­o­ry T cells to vi­ral­ly as­so­ci­at­ed T cells to mar­row in­fil­trat­ing lym­pho­cytes. But what if just am­pli­fy­ing CAR-T cells can do the job? Dar­rell Irvine and his team at MIT have some in­trigu­ing mouse da­ta for one such tech.

Leyuan Ma Irvine Lab

Writ­ing in Sci­ence, Irvine — an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Koch In­sti­tute for In­te­gra­tive Can­cer Re­search — and his post­doc Leyuan Ma de­scribes “am­phiphile CAR-T lig­ands (amph-lig­ands) that, up­on in­jec­tion, traf­ficked to lymph nodes and dec­o­rat­ed the sur­faces of anti­gen-pre­sent­ing cells, there­by prim­ing CAR-Ts in the na­tive lymph node mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.” Among mice giv­en the boost­er shot af­ter CAR-T in­fu­sion, 60% ex­pe­ri­enced a com­plete re­sponse for a va­ri­ety of tu­mors in­clud­ing glioblas­toma, breast and melanoma. In con­trast, bare­ly any­thing hap­pened to those giv­en just the cell ther­a­py.

It rep­re­sents a twist to the once-hot — but elu­sive — can­cer vac­cine ap­proach, whose premise is to in­duce an im­mune at­tack on tu­mor cells. It al­so promis­es to solve the dura­bil­i­ty prob­lem of CAR-T that many re­searchers have high­light­ed.

“This is a strat­e­gy that can be as­signed to any CAR-T cell and po­ten­tial­ly en­hance its func­tion,” he tells me, ren­der­ing it ex­po­nen­tial­ly more po­tent. “So what­ev­er oth­er strat­e­gy they might be tak­ing en­gi­neer­ing bet­ter CARs, build­ing in oth­er ge­net­ic pay­loads in­to the T cells, this would be a way to make those cells more func­tion­al in vi­vo.”

By send­ing a vac­cine di­rect­ly to the lymph nodes to stim­u­late CAR-T cells, he ex­plains, they hit two birds with one stone: Pre­vent­ing vac­cines from get­ting de­grad­ed and CAR-T cells from re­leas­ing tox­ic cy­tokines — both of which hap­pen in blood­streams. And it com­bines the promis­es of both ther­a­pies.

“If we take the an­i­mals that ap­pear to be cured and we rechal­lenge them with tu­mor cells, they will re­ject all of them,” Irvine said in an in­ter­view with MIT News. “That is an­oth­er ex­cit­ing as­pect of this strat­e­gy. You need to have T cells at­tack­ing many dif­fer­ent anti­gens to suc­ceed, be­cause if you have a CAR-T cell that sees on­ly one anti­gen, then the tu­mor on­ly has to mu­tate that one anti­gen to es­cape im­mune at­tack. If the ther­a­py in­duces new T-cell prim­ing, this kind of es­cape mech­a­nism be­comes much more dif­fi­cult.”

To de­liv­er the amph-lig­ands, the sci­en­tists tagged on a lipid tail that binds to al­bu­min in the blood­stream and fol­lows it to the lymph nodes. Once there, the anti­gen in­side the vac­cine — ei­ther the same one the CAR-T is orig­i­nal­ly en­gi­neered to rec­og­nize or an­oth­er, they test­ed both — su­per­charges T cells and spurs their pro­lif­er­a­tion.

Irvine is hope­ful about con­duct­ing first-in-hu­man tri­als with­in one to two years through Eli­cio Ther­a­peu­tics, the sec­ond biotech he co-found­ed. In ad­di­tion to go­ing af­ter sol­id tu­mor in­di­ca­tions, he al­so sees ap­pli­ca­tion of his am­pli­fied CAR-T in the more tra­di­tion­al CD19 and BC­MA set­tings, as well as de­ploy­ing the vac­cine can­di­date alone for KRAS-mu­tant can­cers.

Eli­cio launched ear­li­er this year with $30 mil­lion in fund­ing, Robert Con­nel­ly (old-timers may re­mem­ber him as found­ing CEO of Do­man­tis) as chief and Gami­da Cells’ Ju­lian Adams as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man. The com­pa­ny is in talks with part­ners that might bring their own CAR-T to the ta­ble.

“Part of the beau­ty of this is,” he adds, “in the grand scheme of things, it will add noth­ing to the cost of CAR-T cell ther­a­py be­cause [it’s] es­sen­tial­ly a de­fined mol­e­c­u­lar en­ti­ty that can be made at scale pret­ty sim­ply.”

The re­search pub­lished to­day was par­tial­ly fund­ed by J&J — along­side the NIH, the Mar­ble Cen­ter for Can­cer Nanomed­i­cine and the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute of Gen­er­al Med­ical Sci­ences. Irvine said the phar­ma gi­ant is not cur­rent­ly an in­vestor, though it has been in touch.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls



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Lynn Baxter, Viiv Healthcare's head of North America

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Matt Gline, Roivant Sciences CEO (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for GLG)

Pfiz­er and Roivant team up again for an­oth­er 'Van­t', set­ting up an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry show­down with Prometheus

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There’s no name for the startup yet, nor are there any employees. Thus far, the new company and Roivant can be considered “one and the same,” Roivant CEO Matt Gline tells Endpoints News. But Pfizer is so enthusiastic about the target that it elected to keep 25% of equity in the drug rather than take upfront cash from Roivant, Gline said.

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Roche HQ in Basel, Switzerland. (Image credit: Kyle LaHucik/Endpoints News)

As com­peti­tors near FDA goal­post, Roche spells out its re­peat Alzheimer's set­back

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Ei­sai’s ex­pand­ed Alzheimer’s da­ta leave open ques­tions about safe­ty and clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

Twit­ter dis­ar­ray con­tin­ues as phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ers ex­tend paus­es and look around for op­tions, but keep tweet­ing

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