TETEROW, GERMANY, 1 February, 2018 - The ability of tumors to grow in the body often depends on their skill at avoiding being attacked by the immune system. Our defense system certainly has all the capabilities to kill and dispose of these mutated cells but the latter often disguise their cancer-typical characteristics and so avoid discovery. The objective of a new research project is to give the immune cells the ability to recognize the tumor cells again by teaching them which features of the tumor cell they should actually be looking for. Researchers at Miltenyi Biotec GmbH and its partners are hoping that this will lead to improved therapies for patients suffering from colorectal and pancreatic cancers. The German State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is supporting the project with a grant of 6.4 million Euros.
Colorectal and pancreatic tumors are amongst the commonest cancers in the world. Although treatments for colorectal cancer have become more effective in recent years and the prognosis is no longer associated with a death sentence, the likelihood of a cure following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is still very low. “Our approach gives us the opportunity to expand the spectrum of treatments”, said Dr. Olaf Brauns, Project Lead at Miltenyi Biotec.
The strategy being followed by Dr. Brauns and his colleagues at the Medical Departments of the Universities of Greifswald and Rostock is a variant of cell therapy; a therapy where the cells of the patient’s own immune system are stimulated in a way that enables them to mount a successful attack on the growing tumor. “Usually, immune cells recognize and kill mutated cells and so protect the body against the emergence of a tumor. If a tumor starts growing despite these protective mechanisms, then it is only because the tumor cells have found a way to escape these defenses”, commented Dr. Brauns. In other words, the cancer cells have found a way to hide the features that would expose them as mutated cells and so stifle any immune response that might be raised against them.
The initial phase of the research project PiCoP (peptide-based immunization strategy for treating colorectal and pancreatic cancer) will involve the scientists finding ways to understand the characteristics of the tumor cells. Miltenyi Biotec will develop a novel, innovative process for this purpose in which the individual changes in the genetics of a patient’s tumor will be identified and analyzed using the modern methods of bioinformatics. A biopsy of the cancerous tissue will be used to identify the mutations in the genetic makeup of the tumor. The information obtained will then be used to synthesize peptides that are typical for the patient’s cancer. These short protein chains represent a sort of suspect’s profile, which can then be used to teach immune cells how to identify and attack the tumor.
The next phase involves the isolation of so-called “dendritic cells” from the patient’s blood. These cells are the key regulators of the immune system and will be incubated with the cancer-typical peptides in the laboratory and then grown to large numbers in culture. The dendritic cells take up and process the peptides and so learn the characteristics of the tumor cells. “When these cells are given back to the patient, they trigger a powerful immune response against the tumor that destroys the mutated cells in a more efficient manner than before”, explained Dr. Brauns. The participating university clinics in Greifswald and Rostock will carry out the first clinical trials with patients who are suffering from colorectal or pancreatic cancer. In addition, they will be developing a comprehensive array of research methods that will be used to monitor the clinical studies and also devise new analytical methods that will enable a better understanding of the mode of action of the new treatment.
The State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is supporting the project with a grant of 6.4 million Euros. At a reception on February 1, at the Miltenyi Biotec facility in Teterow, the Minister for Economics, Employment and Health, Mr. Harry Glawe, will present the grant certificate to the project partners. For Stefan Miltenyi, this is also an investment in the future. “Cell and gene therapy are very promising approaches for the treatment of cancer. We are extremely happy that the Ministry is supporting us and our partners and that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has once again demonstrated its innovation-friendly and forward-thinking policies”, he said. The research and production of the new treatments will take place in Teterow and so create new job opportunities. The project participants hope that positive results will be apparent by 2022.
About Miltenyi Biotec
Miltenyi Biotec’s global team of over 2,000 employees design, develop, manufacture, and market products that help advance biomedical research and support gene and cell therapy programs. With headquarters in Bergisch Gladbach and dedicated manufacturing facilities in Teterow, we supply the world with flow cytometry analyzers and sorters, instrumentation for clinical applications, cell culture devices, reagents, and cell separation technologies. GMP-grade suites for in-house and contracted manufacturing of cell products and lentiviral vectors are integral parts of our European and North American sites. Miltenyi Biotec’s engineers, scientists, clinicians, and support teams are all dedicated to helping improve human lives. It is their know-how that is at the root of our product innovation, long-term growth, and worldwide success.
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