Research program by cancer treatment pioneer coming to Sydney

A project harnessing modified immune cells to target cancers will set up Sydney as a leading edge in cancer therapies.

The University of Sydney and Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) have announced the execution of an agreement with biopharmaceutical company, Biosceptre (BCIQ), to establish a new research program on CAR-T cell immunotherapy, at Westmead, Western Sydney.

Biosceptre is developing anti-cancer therapies – in particular, targeted therapeutics and immune-oncology products targeting most types of cancers, with the goal of bringing novel treatments to patients suffering from a wide range of malignancies.

The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health has recruited Dr Patrick Schlegel, a paediatric oncologist and leader in CAR-T technology from Tübingen, Germany, to lead the new research team. Using genetic engineering in safe laboratory environments, T-cells are modified to produce structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface that can recognise and attack cancers, providing treatment for cancer patients.

We are building a very strong research program in immunotherapy, and Professor Schlegel’s work will be a crucial part of this.

Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Medicine and Health

Dr Schlegel has pioneered the use of the CAR-T technology with a novel targeting system that has the potential to treat a broad range of cancers and will develop this technology further in his laboratory in Australia.

In a multi-party partnership, Dr Schlegel will have appointments at CMRI, at the Cancer Centre for Children in The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (part of the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network – SCHN), and as a Professor of The University of Sydney.

The University of Sydney has set up the contract with Biosceptre, with the laboratory to be based at CMRI within the Westmead health, research and education precinct.

“We are building a very strong research program in immunotherapy, and Professor Schlegel’s work will be a crucial part of this”, said Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

“The University of Sydney will also facilitate Professor Schlegel’s role in training and developing a highly skilled workforce to meet escalating clinical demand in this field.”

CMRI’s Executive Director, Professor Roger Reddel, said, “We are delighted that Dr Schlegel has chosen the Westmead Health Precinct as the best environment for his CAR-T research program, which is complementary to the gene therapy and cancer research programs already at CMRI and with research partners in the Precinct. The agreement with Biosceptre in partnership with University of Sydney and Children’s Hospital Westmead is an important component of CMRI’s strategy to make new therapies developed in the laboratory available to patients faster.”

Dr Patrick Schlegel will be leading the research program

CEO of Biosceptre, Mr Gavin Currie said: “We are delighted to enter into this agreement with University of Sydney and the CMRI.

“The clustering of leading cancer research programs at CMRI, access to key research facilities and manufacturing capability, and a state-of-the-art children’s hospital on-site to support translation to care, Australia’s largest paediatric hospital network, and potential for collaborations in CAR-T research across the University of Sydney and its teaching hospitals were major attractors for this partnership.”

“The Biosceptre program originated with unique discoveries made in Australia by our founder Julian Barden, beginning at The University of Sydney. We are delighted to have Professor Schlegel’s expertise in CAR-T research applied to the clinical translation of that science here in Australia, and look forward to advancing to the clinical trial stage,” said Mr Currie.

“Professor Schlegel’s research group will harness the power of the body’s immune system to develop new, more effective, and less toxic treatments for children with cancer,” said Dr Luciano Dalla Pozza, Head of the Cancer Centre for Children at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

“He is at the forefront of immunotherapy research – he and his team will substantially enhance the research opportunities and range of therapies that we can offer to our young patients in Australia – so we can better help children suffering from cancer and other diseases.”

Chief Executive of SCHN, Cathryn Cox said: “This is about leveraging existing strengths in research for the paediatric (and adult) patient population, accelerating development of new expertise, and importantly, advanced manufacturing capability to improve access to care options.

“Through SCHN’s existing pilot-scale GMP-standard Cell and Gene Therapy Facility and the NSW Government’s planned Viral Vector Manufacturing Facility, at Westmead, the centre will produce novel CAR-T therapies at clinical grade. It’s creating the jobs of the future that will produce new treatments to benefit children across Australia and worldwide.”

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