A first of its kind treatment vaccine has moved into a phase I clinical trial for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), under a collaboration agreement between Cancer Research UK and Asterias Biotherapeutics.
Cancer Research UK will manage the initial clinical development of AST-VAC2, a promising immunotherapy candidate derived from a standardised human embryonic stem cell line, which was brought to the charity through its Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme.
If shown to be safe and effective, it’s hoped that AST-VAC2 could be used as an additional treatment for patients who no longer have advanced disease but whose lung cancer is at high risk of coming back, or in combination with other treatments for patients with advanced disease.
Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK’s director of drug development, said:
“This vaccine trial is a pioneering approach to improving treatment for lung cancer, the biggest cause of cancer death worldwide. By coupling our expertise with a leading biotechnology company, we’ve accelerated the development of this experimental treatment by years.”
The vaccine is made from dendritic cells that are able to kick-start the body’s immune system. They present molecules called antigens on their surface and orchestrate a T-cell immune response against cells bearing the same antigens.
AST-VAC2 dendritic cells are engineered to express a modified form of a protein called telomerase, which is almost always present at high levels in various types of cancer cells, but rarely found in healthy cells. This modified form of telomerase, called hTERT, can stimulate a natural immune response targeted at cancer cells. High levels of telomerase are a common feature of many cancers, so AST-VAC2 has the potential to become an immunotherapy option for other types of cancer beyond NSCLC.
Previous dendritic cell therapies have been made using patients’ own cells, but this process is costly, slow and inefficient. By using a pioneering approach of growing mature dendritic cells from a single human embryonic stem cell line in the laboratory, it’s hoped AST-VAC2 will overcome these challenges.
Under the agreement, Asterias transferred its innovative cell therapy manufacturing process to Cancer Research UK. The charity’s Biotherapeutics Development Unit then developed and qualified the process ready for manufacture in its own GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) manufacturing facility.
Asterias Biotherapeutics (California, USA) is a biotechnology company dedicated to developing cell-based therapeutics to treat neurological conditions associated with de-myelination and cellular immunotherapies to treat cancer. Asterias is presently focused on advancing three clinical-stage programs which have the potential to address areas of very high unmet medical need in the fields of neurology and oncology.
The Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development, formerly the Drug Development Office, has been pioneering the development of new cancer treatments for 25 years, taking over 140 potential new anti-cancer agents into clinical trials in patients. It currently has a portfolio of around 30 new anti-cancer agents in preclinical development, Phase I or early Phase II clinical trials.