New collaboration to aid the development of drugs to treat cancers

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Perkins researchers have contributed to the formation of a new research partnership between The University of Western Australia and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) which aims to explore how tumours can be made more responsive to immunotherapy treatments.

Professor Ruth GanssCancer immunotherapies, including checkpoint blocking antibodies such as MSD’s Keytruda, have shown remarkable results in a number of different cancer types.

However the effectiveness of these treatments may be enhanced by giving patients other drugs at the same time, to simultaneously boost the access of immune cells to the tumour.

Dr Louis Pymar, Senior Commercialisation Officer at UWA said the connection with MSD brought together world-class research at UWA with a company leading the immuno-oncology field.

“MSD and UWA will work together to examine tumour-associated blood vessels and lymph node-like structures within tumours, with a view to devising new combination treatment approaches,” Dr Pymar said.

The project builds on the work of Perkins Professor Ruth Ganss (pictured right) who has pioneered the use of ‘immuno-cytokine’ agents to 'normalize' disorganised blood vessels within tumours and to induce formation of specialised cell structures within tumours which act as 'portals' for the mass influx of immune cells.

“Lymph nodes, a vital component of our immune system, normally only exist outside of the cancer and work to filter cancer cells and generate white blood cells that fight infection,” Professor Ganss said.

“The treatments we are developing trigger the lymph-node-structures within the cancer, so that current immunotherapies that have been approved for clinical use can work more effectively.” 

“We envision that a combination of our treatments and existing immunotherapies, will greatly enhance the outcomes for patients in the future.” 

Phil Kearney, MSD Business Development & Licensing said the partnership was another great example of MSD accessing world-leading science here in Australia in an effort to bring new medicines to cancer patients.

The partnership provides an exciting opportunity for researchers from UWA, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and a leading global pharmaceutical company to work together towards developing better treatments for cancer patients.

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