In a new partnership funded by Aduro Biotech, cancer immunologists and infectious disease specialists at the University of California at Berkeley will work together to develop new cancer immunotherapies and advance vaccine research.
Aduro, a company focused] on the development of immunotherapeutic approaches, will provide $7.5 million to the Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI) over a three-year period, with a possible extension for three more years. The collaboration will also allow Berkeley scientists to have access to Aduro’s technology platforms.
While seemingly quite different fields of research, expertise from the two areas have the potential to significantly speed up research and drug development processes.
The funding will support more research into some of the most promising techniques in development today for fighting cancer and infections. Potential areas involve research on cyclic di-nucleotides – factors that have anticancer properties while also making vaccines against diseases such as tuberculosis more powerful.
“We’re increasingly finding that immune stimulants associated with disease-causing microbes work as cancer therapies, and conversely, that immunotherapies for cancer may have application in fighting infectious disease,” IVRI Director David Raulet, a professor and co-chair of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, said in a press release. “Bringing infectious disease and cancer researchers together in a synergistic research effort at UC Berkeley and Aduro Biotech is an exciting and unique idea, and could be where the next generation of therapies will come from.”
Berkeley has already developed technology that Aduro has taken to the clinic. A method where engineered bacteria are used to trigger immune responses against cancer is now in Phase 2B clinical trials of cancer vaccines against pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma.
“Through this unique collaboration, there is tremendous opportunity to improve our understanding of the immune system’s potential to serve as an important weapon in treating cancer and infectious disease,” said Aduro CEO Stephen T. Isaacs. “By combining UC Berkeley’s leading research and academic resources with innovative technology platforms, such as those developed by Aduro, we are confident that this initiative will lead to an improved understanding of, and potential treatments for, some of the most devastating diseases.”
One technology likely to progress to clinically relevant treatment approaches involves the protein STING. The factor is activated by cyclic di-nucleotides, leading to the launch of an immune response that can target both cancer and infections. Another Berkeley scientist – Russell Vance – discovered some time ago that these cyclic di-nucleotides, usually released by certain bacteria, need to have a specific structure to work in humans. By optimizing the factors, researchers have now made them effectively fight cancer in laboratory animals.
“It’s amazing how these discoveries made by infectious disease researchers have given us an exciting new approach to treat cancer,” Raulet said. “These really are areas that have a lot to say to each other.”
Raulet’s own research focuses on so-called natural killer (NK) cells, which have the potential to kill cancer cells. However, these cells get desensitized inside the tumor. Raulet’s research has shown that similar factors boosting T-cell responses against cancers can also make NK-cells more reactive.
“NK cell immunotherapies are very likely to be the next generation to complement T-cell immunotherapies,” he said.
“The IVRI is a marriage of cancer immunotherapy and infectious disease immunology, where therapies in one area can be effective in the other, and observations in one can be applied to the other,” Raulet said. “It’s exciting to think that drugs tested first in diseases like cancer might have an impact on neglected diseases in the developing world, and that it can work in the other direction, too.”