Immunotherapy Based on Natural Killer Cells May Soon Begin Clinical Studies

Immunotherapy Based on Natural Killer Cells May Soon Begin Clinical Studies

Cyto-Sen Therapeutics, a Florida-based startup, is moving to bring a natural killer cell-based immunotherapy into clinical trials by late 2017.

During the past decade, treatment approaches based on immunotherapy have attracted exceptional attention because of the numerous advantages over other therapeutic strategies like chemotherapy.

Immunotherapies work to boost the body’s immune system, enhancing its ability to fight cancer cells. The therapies are also often associated with fewer side effects compared with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Natural killer (NK) cells play an important role in setting up the body’s first line of defense against foreign pathogens. They are able to recognize certain tumors cells and virus-infected cells, and kill them by injecting cell-degrading proteins into the malignant cells.

Researchers have been trying to develop NK cell-based immunotherapies for the past 20 years, but expanding NK cells in culture has been a major challenge.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine have found that a nanoparticle that sends specific signals to NK cells is able to boost these cells’ proliferation.

“These Natural Killer cells are an army and they’re your friends. This potential therapy means you have more of these fighters and they are armed to the teeth,” Alicja Copik, a researcher at UCF’s College of Medicine who discovered the nanoparticles, said in a press release.

Real-time imaging video showed that adding the nanoparticles to cancer cells quickly multiplied the natural killer cells 10,000-fold. That, in turn, led to a quick extermination of the cancer cells.

“You realize how powerful this system is when you see these cells actually tearing apart the tumors,” Copik said on the video.

“Dr. Copik’s delivery-expansion method appears to create an important bridge between our desire to use the body’s own cancer-fighting systems and medical science’s ability to make that happen in the lab,” said Phil McKee, chairman of Cyto-Sen. “With her system, we can take what the body naturally has and instead of a few soldiers, we can create a battalion.”

The therapy was seen to be effective in treating acute myeloid leukemia; further studies are required to determined its efficacy in other diseases. This year’s clinical trials will focus on the safety and efficacy of the technology in people.

Cyto-Sen Therapeutics, a company created by UCF researchers and physicians including Copik, and researchers and physicians at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, recently licensed the technology with the intent to begin the clinical testing.