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Innovative cell therapy could open up new treatment options for seriously ill patients

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(Vienna, 24 August 2021) A new type of cell therapy could mean a paradigm shift in the treatment of solid tumours - cancers that originate in different organs - and open up new personalised treatment options, especially for seriously ill patients with previously hard-to-treat cancers. The therapy involves switching off a specific protein, which in turn boosts the activity of individuals own immune cells. The efficacy, tolerability and immunological effects of the new cell therapy are currently being investigated at the Department of Blood Group Serology and Transfusion Medicine together with the Division of Oncology (Department of Medicine I) of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital.

Around 42,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Austria every year. Malignant tumours are the second most common cause of death after cardiovascular disease. A new cell therapy could open up new treatment options for seriously ill patients who fail to respond to standard therapies.

Immune cells fight tumours more vigorously after cell therapy
The new cell therapy includes collection of immune cells (white blood cells) from the patient by an apheresis device, using cubital veins. The protein Cbl-b is then switched off in the extracted cells in the laboratory.

"This protein is responsible for the suppression of immune response against tumour cells. The protein reduces the activity of most immune cells. Studies have shown that switching off the protein Cbl-b enhances the immune response against tumour cells" explains Nina Worel from the Department of Blood Group Serology and Transfusion Medicine and study investigator.

The new cell therapy targets the patient's own immune cells. These cells are modified so that they can recognise and destroy cancer cells without the need for permanent genetical manipulation. After reinfusion, the immune system fights the tumour more vigorously.

"Using cell therapy to enable patient's immune system to attack the tumour directly is a promising approach. Safe and effective new treatment options are urgently needed, especially for patients with advanced solid tumours," says Worel.

The innovative manufacturing and treatment process allows an outpatient treatment within one day from cell collection to reinfusion. A clinical trial is now being conducted to further investigate the immunological effects of treatment with the product candidate APN401 (APEIRON Biologics AG), as well as its efficacy, safety, and tolerability.

"Due to its rapid applicability and central immune activation, this new cellular therapy could outclass existing cell therapies in terms of safety and efficacy. We are delighted to start this study for the European region here in Vienna and to acquire new knowledge," says Worel. This clinical study is financed and carried out by APEIRON Biologics AG.