The research project that has received funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC) within the framework of "Pathfinder Open" is called " RESYNC- Functional chemical reprogramming of cancer cells to induce antitumor immunity"
In recent years, immunotherapies that utilize the patient's own immune system have revolutionized cancer treatment. But sometimes the immune system fails to eliminate tumor cells, especially if the tumor has developed mechanisms to evade immune surveillance, the immune system's ability to fight disease. Many patients also do not respond to these therapies, because the immune cells that recognize foreign substances, antigens, and respond to threats such as infections and tumor cells, are missing or dysfunctional.
"Among our antigen-presenting cells, it is the dendritic cells that most effectively provide antitumor immunity and better patient survival. But the dendritic cells are rare. We have therefore identified three proteins that can reprogram human cancer cells into functional dendritic cells," says Filipe Pereira, professor of molecular medicine at Lund University, principal investigator at Lund Stem Cell Center, and coordinator of the Pathfinder project. He is also the founder of the company Asgard Therapeutics, which is a partner in the EIC project.
The research group, together with Asgard Therapeutics, has developed a way to inject viral vectors that carry the proteins, directly into the patient's tumor. In this way, the cancer cells are reprogrammed into dendritic cells and thus lose their ability to develop into tumors. But this type of cell-based therapy is associated with complex manufacturing and high price tags. In order to be able to use the method clinically on a broad front, the researchers therefore need to develop a systematic method for reprogramming. Together with five international partners, it is now hoped to be able to use small molecule-based reprogramming to change the function of cells. Small molecules are good candidates for making chemical cell transformations, because they are smaller and have an easier time passing through the cell membrane than viral vectors. In addition, they have the potential to be manufactured in larger quantities, in order to meet market demand.
"The goal is now to identify the combination of small molecules that effectively reprograms the cancer cells into dendritic cells. Next, we will connect the cell reprogramming with nanoparticles, which are targeted to specific areas of the body - for example, disseminated tumors - to improve the delivery and increase the therapeutic effect," says Fábio Fiúza Rosa, head of research at and one of the founders of Asgard Therapeutics.