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Better Diagnostic Technology for Cancer Detection

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Publication Date: 
October 2020

Case study from: International research collaboration

Cancer is a major cause of illness in Australia. It has substantial socio-economic impacts on Australian society.

In 2019, over one million people in Australia are either living with or have lived with cancer 1.

Better diagnostic technologies can improve cancer detection. They can even improve outcomes from cancer treatments.

T-cells, an important component of human immunity, normally target and destroy abnormal cells. Yet some cancer cells evade the immune system.

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy. It strengthens the immune system by using altered T-cells. The T-cells target cancer cells that don't respond to standard treatments.

Various imaging modalities are conventional monitoring techniques, such as:

  • Computer Tomography (CT)
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
  • Magnetic Resonance (MR)

Using a novel dual mode PET-MR imaging agent will improve the understanding of CAR T-cell therapies in solid tumours.

It will provide insight into:

  • physiology
  • efficacy
  • toxicities

Global Innovation Linkages program

Cell Therapies Pty Ltd (Cell Therapies) led a consortium including:

  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • RMIT University
  • The Royal Children’s Hospital
  • Cyclotek (Aust) Pty Ltd
  • Juno Therapeutics (USA)

A Global Innovation Linkages program (GIL) grant of $1 million supported the clinical translation of the innovative and novel cell tracking platform. It enabled studies into CAR T-cell therapy in real time before commercialisation.

The project partners contributed almost four times the value of the GIL grant.

A/Prof Simon Harrison from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre along with other team leaders led a multi-disciplinary cross functional Australian research team.

The team developed an approach to assess the therapeutic progress of cell-based therapies. It specifically looked at CAR T-cells.
The approach provided real-time:

  • distribution
  • migration
  • localisation

The GIL grant supported Cell Therapies to assess and research the lack of effective imaging tools providing cell tracking data for cell-based therapies.

Outcomes of the project

The project developed a nanoparticle based dual PET-MR imaging agent.

Using smart design principles, the RMIT team led by Prof Vipul Bansal developed an imaging agent that is more effective than conventional imaging agents.

It demonstrates better:

  • retention in cells
  • detection by PET/MR scanners post administration

The groundbreaking research also provided a simple, scalable and non-invasive cell tracking platform. It is biocompatible and doesn't pose any risk to the CAR T-cells.

CAR T-cell therapy with this dual imaging agent is suitable for early tumour detection. It is also suitable for ongoing monitoring in oncology.

The technology provides clinicians with highly valuable visual data. They also have the ability to track and quantify labelled CAR T-cells. This includes CAR T-cells circulating in real time and in different organs of the body.

The study validated and demonstrated the potential for cell tracking in immunotherapy.

The research continues to garner global recognition.

The team has published in high impact journals. They have also presented the findings at international conferences.

Cell Therapies enhanced its international linkages. It also facilitated the potential for ongoing industry-research sector collaborations.

Cell Therapies and team has generated a strong international patent portfolio.

Cell Therapies believes this research can lead to broader national benefits. The benefits can help in alleviating the health burdens that come with cancer.

Cell Therapies’ promotion of the imaging technology is continuing. They are exploring commercialisation opportunities with major pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

The team

Cyclotek has expertise in commercial radiolabelling and manufacturing of imaging agents. They facilitated the translation of a laboratory-based nanoparticle synthesis process to a clinically compliant radiolabelled CAR T-cell clinical dose.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre provided access to the patient cohort.

Juno Therapeutics, a global partner, is the sponsor of the study.

The Royal Children’s Hospital made dual PET-MR imaging facility accessible.

Cell Therapies has expertise in commercial manufacturing of cell-based therapies.

The team unlocked an unexplored area with an important diagnostic value in the treatment of cancer.

Dr Ritu Singla from Cell Therapies led the team to successfully conduct the first-in-human clinical trial.

Australian team leaders

  • Dr Ritu Singla, Project Manager – Cell Tracking, Cell Therapies Pty Ltd
  • A/Prof. Simon Harrison - Director of the Centre of Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Prof. Dominic Wall – Chief Scientific Officer, Cell Therapies Pty Ltd
  • Prof. Vipul Bansal - Director, Sir Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility, RMIT University
  • Mr Gregory Santamaria – CEO, Cyclotek (Aust) Ltd

Australian and Global Partners

  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • RMIT University
  • Cyclotek (Aust) Pty Ltd
  • The Royal Children’s Hospital
  • Juno Therapeutics (USA)

1 Cancer in Australia 2019

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