Innovative approach that makes “cold” tumours “hot”

2019 - 09 - 09

A recent news article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery highlights innovative approaches aiming to improve the efficiency of cancer immunotherapy. Such approaches are currently jointly developed by the Tumour Immunotherapy and Microenvironment (TIME) research group at LIH’s Department of Oncology and by the Swedish pharma company Sprint Bioscience.

The research work of the TIME group, led by Dr Bassam Janji, provided strong evidence that autophagy constitutes a valuable target for driving cytotoxic immune cells into the tumour microenvironment and thus, switching “cold” immune desert tumours into “hot” immune infiltrated or inflamed tumours. Within the public-private partnership, LIH and Sprint Bioscience are investigating new approaches for improving cancer immunotherapy. Using relevant preclinical mouse models, established in the TIME group, these approaches are based on evaluating the therapeutic benefit of combining immune checkpoint blockades with autophagy inhibitors.

Sprint Bioscience has produced highly selective and potent inhibitors that modulate the phosphoinositide 3-kinase Vps34, an enzyme required for autophagy. One of the inhibitors that is particularly promising is currently investigated for its immunomodulatory properties.

The news article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery explains that the approach of targeting autophagy presently experiences a revival. Several research groups and pharma companies are again highly interested in the role of autophagy in cancer. Sprint Bioscience is featured as one of few companies in the world with a drug discovery program targeting autophagy. Inhibiting autophagy via Vps34 is an innovative approach when combined with immune checkpoint blockade-based cancer immunotherapy. This combination may enter in phase I clinical trials in 2020, as reported in the article by the acting CEO of Sprint Bioscience, Jessica Martinsson. ‘By designing novel combination approaches to switch “cold” immune desert tumours into “hot” immune infiltrated or inflamed tumours, we aim to improve the clinical benefit of immune checkpoint blockade-based cancer immunotherapy,’ underlines Dr Janji.

The research work of the TIME group is supported by a CORE grant of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) and funding from the “Fondation Cancer” Luxembourg.

Read the news article here