A new Sponsored Research Agreement between OncoSec Medical Inc. and Massachusetts General Hospital will allow researchers from both facilities to collaborate and investigate the mechanisms of action behind OncoSec’s clinical stage platform, ImmunoPulseTM IL-12. Researchers at OncoSec and Massacusetts General Hospital will be led by Sara I. Pai, MD, a faculty member at the hospital and at Harvard Medical School.
“Intratumoral delivery of cytokines, such as IL-12, has the potential to alter the tumor microenvironment while minimizing the attendant systemic toxicity associated with other immunotherapeutic target delivery systems,” commented Dr. Pai, in a news release. Dr. Pai has conducted extensive research on Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in her career, specifically in the context of oropharyngeal cancer.
The research team will be using an HPV tumor mouse model to study the anti-tumor effects of ImmunoPulse IL-12. In addition to oropharyngeal cancer, genitourinary cancers (such as cervical cancer) are also associated with HPV, making this model relevant in the context of a variety of applications.
Cancers are targeted by ImmunoPulse IL-12 through intratumoral IL-12 electroporation, where an electric field increases the permeability of cells to deliver DNA-based IL-12. IL-12 is a cytokine released during the innate and adaptive immune responses to drive T-cell-specific killing of cancer cells. It is thought that delivering IL-12 will reverse immune evasion demonstrated by cancer cells.
“HPV-associated cancers contain viral antigens, which should allow tumors to be identified and eliminated by the immune system,” explained Robert H. Pierce, MD, Chief Scientific Officer at OncoSec. “Unfortunately, these tumors find means to subvert the immune response. We hypothesize that intratumoral IL-12 electroporation allows the immune system to better recognize and mount an attack against these ‘foreign’ antigens. Dr. Pai and her team are well-positioned to rigorously address these questions.”
It is important for the researchers to continue understanding the mechanisms of action of ImmunoPulse IL-12, as it is currently in use for Phase II clinical trials in patients with metastatic melanoma and soon to be in use for Phase II clinical trials in head and neck cancer and triple negative breast cancer. Preliminary results from the metastatic melanoma trial suggests that ImmunoPulse IL-12 induces a local immune response, causing anti-tumor immune actions.
“We’re excited to embark on this study with the Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Pai, who has tremendous expertise in understanding how cancer can escape the immune system,” said Dr. Pierce. At the end of the study, the team will have gained more knowledge on how ImmunoPulse IL-12 fights cancer.