CAR T-cell trial for solid tumours thanks to ‘Superman’ funding

By Michael Woodhead

28 Nov 2018

Prof Rasko

Australia will get a clinical trial of CAR T-cell immunotherapy for patients with solid tumours thanks to a $4.5 million donation from “Superman” philanthropist Li Ka Shing

The trial in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer will be led by Professor John Rasko clinical haematologist and gene therapy pathologist at the Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology at the University of Sydney.

Funded by the Hong Kong property developer popularly known as a financial “Superman”, the Li Ka Shing Cell and Gene Therapy Initiative will also help Australia build capacity as an independent centre for manufacturing and providing CAR T-cell therapy, without having to rely on US centres.

“With support from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, we propose to expand capability by undertaking a potentially curative clinical trial,” says Professor Rasko.

“We believe our unique approach coupled with our experience in this field, provide compelling points of difference to other clinical trials taking place worldwide. With over 15 years’ experience, infrastructure development and refinements to our technique, we aim to break through years of minimal progress to accelerate treatment for pancreatic cancer.”

Setting up clinical trials for pancreatic cancer has been a major challenge, says Professor Rasko, because of the relatively low patient numbers and the perceived lack of commercial return by sponsors.

Li Ka Shing

He believes the $4.5 million donation will also build capacity in the cell and gene therapy workforce through training of scientific, clinical and regulatory personnel needed to develop and supply CAR T-cell therapies.

“We are in a position to provide local manufacturing of CAR T-cells for Australian patients and to deliver this service and to increase our clinical trial capacity via our international SAAC Consortium collaboration.

“Within one year of securing philanthropic support for this initiative, we anticipate to be providing the ongoing and necessary training for staff in specific manufacturing, and in the demanding clinical care of patients receiving potent immunotherapies.

According to Professor Rasko, it currently takes several months and costs in excess of $600,000 for a single treatment of CAR T-cells to be produced in the US and shipped to Australia.

“However, with support from the Li Ka Shing Foundation we can leverage existing infrastructure and expertise to replicate, refine and test an enhanced process through the proposed clinical trial.”

“The net effect will be to implement a completely novel form of cancer therapeutic to increase local capacity and expertise while changing lives for the better.”

The Li Ka Shing Cell and Gene Therapy Initiative, is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, Centenary Institute, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Sydney Catalyst, NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, Sydney Cancer Research Network and Sydney Health Partners.

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