VIC Retreat Showcases Momentum of New Drugs and Vaccines Toward the Clinic
During their annual retreat on January 30, 2018, the investigators of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital showcased the breadth of their research and the building momentum toward translating promising technologies to the clinic. Six junior and senior scientists presented summaries of their work to colleagues and collaborators from across MGH, and other institutions, and showed how the different approaches are moving toward the clinic. Key research initiatives from VIC are:
Better Diagnostics from Existing Cancer Biopsies (Patrick Reeves, PhD): Patrick has been working with new diagnostic approaches that can be applied to existing tissue biopsies. In cancer, these have the potential to provide important new information about the effect of drug treatment on the immune system in the tumor, where treatment ultimately succeeds or fails. VIC is collaborating with a company to show how this can be useful in planning treatment of prostate cancer.
Laser Vaccine Adjuvant for Influenza (Satoshi Kashiwagi, MD, PhD): Satoshi discovered that a small infrared laser can make vaccines given under the skin (intradermal) more effective, and has determined how this “laser adjuvant” works with the immune system. The laser treatment takes only a minute, is not painful, and is non-damaging. His work in animals is concluding and VIC has prioritized moving testing of a “laser adjuvanted” influenza vaccine to humans.
Novel Combination Immunotherapy for Cancer (Huabiao Chen, MD): Huabiao has tested the combination of an existing drug, Plerixafor (Mozobil), and a new therapeutic protein invented at Massachusetts General Hospital, called Jantibody, on metastatic mesothelioma. This cancer comes from asbestos exposure and typically kills patients within a year of diagnosis. In mouse models the immune therapy combination doubled survival duration. VIC is working with a start-up company to move this combination treatment into clinical testing.
Immune Cell Therapy for Diabetic Ulcers (Ruxandra Sirbulescu, PhD): Over the last year, Ruxandra has shown that taking a specific immune cell—the B cell—from the blood and placing it on skin wounds in diabetic mice can significantly accelerate healing rates and get non-healing wounds “unstuck”. Sufficient B cells for treatment can be readily isolated from patients’ blood, and VIC is preparing for a proof of principle study in humans over the next year.
Immune-Altering Protein to Protect Replacement Islets in Type 1 Diabetes (David Alagpulinsa, PhD): An exciting new development in islet replacement therapy for treating type 1 diabetes is the use of islets that are derived from human stem cells, making the supply of insulin-producing cells potentially unlimited. Implants based on these cells will still require protection from the immune system. David has shown in diabetic mice that, when the human protein CXCL12 is included in polymer microbeads containing the stem cell-based islets, rejection of the islets was eliminated and the blood sugar level of mice remained normal. David is now preparing to test this approach in a large animal model that is more relevant to humans and can form the basis for an eventual human study.
Discovery of New Anti-Virals for Dengue and Zika (Dahlene Fusco, MD, PhD): There are no approved antiviral drugs for many infections, including Dengue and Zika. Many of the viruses that cause these diseases suppress a cell pathway that would otherwise kill the virus. Dahlene has developed a mouse model that will enable the screening of new drugs that can restore the function of this virus-killing pathway. Dahlene is setting up of these models and will start screening for new drug candidates in 2018.
Gifts from VIC donors have played an important role in moving all these technologies from discovery toward clinical testing.