An Israeli immunotherapy has successfully “reprogrammed the immune systems” of cancer patients, with a US-based pharma company licensing it for commercialization, its inventors revealed on Wednesday.
The treatment involves removing healthy white blood cells — T-cells — from cancer patients and adding an artificial molecule before returning the cells to the body, said Prof. Cyrille Cohen of Bar Ilan University.
The molecule gives the T-cells powers to recognize and kill cells that cause multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer.
Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem tested the therapy with different dose levels and found that, when given at the highest strength, 57 percent of multiple myeloma patients went into remission. Some 90% of patients given the high dose saw an improvement in their condition.
Partial results from the ongoing study, which involved 50 cancer patients, have been peer-reviewed.
The innovation arms of Bar Ilan and Hadassah Medical Center announced Wednesday that they have signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Immix BioPharma for the further development and commercialization of the therapy. It is named HBI0101, with the first three letters referencing Hadassah and Bar Ilan.
“This is very exciting, and represents the first immunotherapy of its type developed entirely in Israel, a blue-and-white cancer treatment,” said Cohen, who co-invented HBI0101 together with Prof. Polina Stepensky of Hadassah, predicting that it could be in mainstream use within five years.
“This was a dream and a hope since I opened my lab 15 years ago. I believe this treatment will help many people and save many lives. It works by reprogramming the immune system of patients and enabling it to effectively target cancer,” added Cohen.
Immunotherapy normally involves injections of cells or the administration of drugs that block some proteins that patients naturally produce, so their immune systems work better in targeting the cancer cells.
A newer form of immunotherapy called CAR T-cells involves the use of receptors — molecules inside or on the surface of a cell that bind to a specific substance.
These receptors are called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs. They have two functions: They bind to cancer cells, identifying them as a target for the immune system, and they boost the immune system by activating T-cells to attack the target.
CAR T-cell therapy was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2017, and has been largely limited to lymphoma. Cohen’s therapy, which is administered intravenously, is the first all-Israeli CAR T-cell therapy.
“There is a great need for different CAR T-cell therapies that target different cancers,” said Cohen, one of Israel’s most renowned immunologists. “Ours took many different designs to find the right receptor for this therapy. After testing in-vitro we experimented on mice with human tumors, and then having identified the optimum molecule, trialed it on humans.
“In an ongoing Phase I/2 trial, 50 multiple myeloma patients have taken part so far. As well as trialing it on these cancer patients, we trialed the therapy on six patients with amyloidosis, a rare disease caused by the buildup of an abnormal protein. In this case it is restraining the immune cells that are causing the problem,” he continued.
“Some 100% of patients with amyloidosis have gone into remission from their disease, even though it’s a chronic disease that is very difficult to treat. And I’m proud that some 90% of the myeloma patients have benefited from the therapy. These are very good results.”
The trial is continuing at Hadassah, where Prof. Polina Stepensky, head of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cancer Immunotherapy and co-inventor of the treatment, said: “We are very excited by the outstanding interim results of our ongoing study in multiple myeloma and amyloidosis patients. This has the potential to improve the lives of so many patients globally.”