QIMR Berghofer signs licensing, research and manufacturing deal for new cellular immunotherapy with US company Cellevolve Bio

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute will work with San-Francisco-based company, Cellevolve Bio to develop and manufacture cellular immunotherapies for John Cunningham (JC) and BK polyomaviruses, both of which can cause life-threatening complications in immunocompromised patients.

Development will initially focus on the JC virus immunotherapy. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population is infected with JC virus and experience no side effects. However, it can be activated in some people whose immune systems are compromised, either due to underlying diseases or immunosuppressive medication.

Under these conditions, JC virus infects the brain’s white matter, leading to severe damage to the protective coating of nerve cells. This highly debilitating and often fatal disease is referred to as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).

Under a licensing agreement signed by the two organisations, Cellevolve Bio which is a cell therapy development and commercialisation company, will commercialise the JC virus immunotherapy product, initially conducting a clinical trial.

The organisations have signed research and manufacturing agreements for process development and production of the therapy at QIMR Berghofer’s cell manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics.

The Coordinator of QIMR Berghofer’s Centre for Immunotherapy and Vaccine Development, Professor Rajiv Khanna AO, will oversee the JC virus immunotherapy product’s development.

The ‘off-the-shelf’ cellular therapy will be developed using donor immune cells that will be ‘trained’ to recognise and destroy the viruses.

“While most of us can fight off these common viruses fairly quickly, they can be devastating in immunocompromised patients,” Professor Khanna said.

“We want to have treatments to offer these vulnerable patients, and that’s why I’m so pleased to work with Cellevolve to progress these cellular therapies to clinical trials.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO, Professor Fabienne Mackay, said the licensing agreement highlighted QIMR Berghofer’s commitment to bringing new treatments to the clinic.

“Professor Khanna has existing partnerships for the development and commercialisation of cellular therapies for more common conditions like multiple sclerosis and brain cancer,” she said.

“Now we have an opportunity to expand this know-how to patients with rarer conditions that can leave them highly vulnerable to common viruses.”

Cellevolve’s Founder and CEO, Derrell Porter, MD, said the company is focused on transforming innovation into commercially available treatments.

“We are honoured to partner with a scientist with Professor Khanna’s experience in cell therapy to advance ‘off-the-shelf’ cellular therapies for grievous illnesses with an initial therapeutic focus on PML,” said Dr Porter.

The deal comes after the Queensland Government previously committed $1.4 million to expand and upgrade the Institute’s world-class, regulatory-approved cell therapy manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics.

The terms of the agreement are commercial-in-confidence.

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