Antitumor vaccine, new frontiers of research with Ieo and the University of Turin

The European Institute of Oncology has signed a collaboration agreement with the Molecular Biotechnology Center (MBC) of the University of Turin for the development of new cell therapies, innovative experimental treatments that use genes, tissues or cells to exploit our body’s ability to fight disease. The agreement provides for the use of laboratories of the Cellular Workshop, or Cell Factory, of the Turin Center, for the complex preparation of cells to be used in Cell Therapy programs conducted by the Ieo in Milan. It is a collaboration agreement in an emerging sector, which requires the sharing of different skills.

The first program, which has recently been signed, concerns the preparation and testing of a cancer vaccine to treat early forms of lymphomas. The patient’s immune cells, adequately prepared and activated, are used in the Turin Cellular Workshop, which will then be re-injected into the patients followed at the Ieo in Milan. This will be a first experience, already in the evaluation phase of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, preparatory to develop, later on, CAR-T cell therapies for high-risk neoplasms, both haematological and solid.

Cell therapies represent a promising frontier in oncology and a priority area for Ieo. However, they require not only research skills, but also dedicated structures with highly specialized personnel, to be subjected to rigorous verification processes by national bodies – explains Professor Roberto Orecchia, Ieoo Scientific Director – For this reason we have decided to network with laboratories already existing and with solid experience. MBC was the ideal partner because it has a technologically advanced Cell Factory, which received the AIFA authorization in 2017 and is surrounded by a research environment of the highest international standards. Everything is ready to kick off the clinical trial of the follicular lymphoma vaccine. We will be treating the first patients by the end of the year.

The agreement with IEO is an opportunity to develop academic clinical research, with autonomous programs – says Prof. Fiorella Altruda, Director of MBC. We believe it is appropriate to create independent pathways of research and production, on a small scale, of cells prepared for therapeutic use in patients. The IEO-MBC agreement is an excellent example because it combines the clinical knowledge and expertise of an IRCCS (Institute for Scientific Hospitalization and Care) with the know-how and facilities of an academic biotechnology research center.

Therapeutic vaccines are a central research topic in oncology – comments Professor Corrado Tarella, Director of the IEO Hematology Program. In the USA, numerous clinical studies have been carried out in both lymphomas and solid tumors. The principle of action is similar to that of vaccinations for infectious diseases, such as anti-covid: the aim is to induce the immune system to activate itself against an infection. In our case, the infection is the tumor. It has long been known that the problem of the inertia of our immune system against cancer is due to the fact that, for various reasons, cancer cells are no longer recognized as foreign and therefore dangerous. For this reason it was decided to make them more visible to the immune system. In IEO we take the patient’s tumor cells together with special immune cells, the dendritic cells. In the Cell factory in Turin the two types of cells are tested on each other and the activated dendritic cells are purified, and then re-infused to the patient in IEO, with a simple subcutaneous injection and subsequent 3 recalls. Once in circulation, the dendritic cells send an activation signal to the T and B lymphocytes which are thus activated and stimulated to destroy the cancer cells. “

The advantages for the patient are significant, their immune defenses are exploited to the maximum to block tumor growth, with an approach that does not involve particular toxicities. It will start with follicular lymphoma, but plans are already being made to extend the vaccine experimentation to other forms of non-aggressive clinical haemopathies and, in the future, to selected non-haematological tumors.

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