Revolutionary New Zealand Invention to Enhance Safety in Cancer Care

An innovative ‘Safety Switch’ designed at the Malaghan Institute can significantly enhance the safety and accessibility of CAR T-cell therapy and other cel…

Dr Patricia Rubio-Reyes, a postdoctoral researcher, has pioneered a significant advancement in CAR T-cell therapy by introducing a ‘safety switch’. This innovative feature allows medical professionals to quickly halt CAR T-cell activity in the rare instance of severe side effects. Dr Rubio-Reyes highlights the importance of this development, stating, “This ability to stop potential toxicity to CAR T-cell treatment will further improve the safety profile of a treatment which already has a strong safety record.”

CAR T-cell therapy, a groundbreaking approach in cancer immunotherapy, involves extracting and genetically modifying a patient’s immune cells to target and destroy their cancer cells effectively. In line with the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research‘s ongoing research, which includes a clinical trial for B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, this programme is dedicated to enhancing the safety and efficacy of existing CAR T-cell therapies and broadening their application to diverse cancers, including solid tumours.

Dr Rubio-Reyes explains the particular challenges in treating solid cancers, such as lung cancer or melanoma, where cancer cells form dense masses, making it difficult to reach the inner cells of the tumour. “In solid cancers… the presence of a safety switch would be even more important,” she notes. This innovation is not only pivotal for high-dose scenarios but also expands the potential use of CAR T-cell therapy to early-stage cancers, moving it beyond a last-resort treatment.

The ‘safety switch’ is a modified form of a naturally occurring protein, CD20, found on B-cells. Dr Rubio-Reyes emphasises its uniqueness: “What sets this safety switch apart from other similar inventions is its reliance on a naturally occurring protein,” with modifications that prevent unintended effects on other cells, thus enhancing safety. “By effectively neutralising the protein, its only function is to tag the modified therapeutic cells for identification and destruction if desired.”

This modified CD20 can be integrated into CAR T-cell constructs, allowing the immune system to target the destruction of these cells when necessary by introducing a specific antibody. This innovation also facilitates monitoring CAR T-cells in the patient’s body over time.

The potential of this safety switch extends beyond cancer therapy, promising advancements in other adoptive cell therapies that involve cell modification and reintroduction. Dr Rubio-Reyes envisions broader applications: “Currently adoptive cell therapies are being used as a revolutionary approach to cancer therapy, however, there is potential for this to be applied to other diseases.”

I want this safety switch to make cutting-edge therapies safer, providing more people with currently incurable conditions a path to recovery.

– Dr Rubio-Reyes

Recognised as a KiwiNet Emerging Innovator, Dr Patricia Rubio-Reyes is receiving crucial support and mentorship to explore the commercial potential of her invention. She is committed to enhancing patient safety with advanced therapies.

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