New technology paves the way for vaccination against cancer

11 June 2021

Sara Mangsbo, research director in immuno-oncology, on site at SciLifeLab

Sara Mangsbo, research director in immuno-oncology, on site at SciLifeLab

With a new method, researchers at Uppsala University want to teach our immune system to identify tumors and create the T cells to destroy them. "It is inspiring to see something so innovative originate in Sweden," says Kristian Sandberg, head of SciLifeLab's Drug Discovery and Development Platform.

Immunotherapy as a cancer treatment – to utilise and strengthen the body's immune system against tumor cells - took another important step as Sara Mangsbo, research director in immune-oncology, presented the results of her many years of collaboration with SciLifeLab on a new platform technology with potential for individual and cost-effective cancer care.

“Immunotherapy is experiencing tremendous success, but still faces the challenge to increase the number of tumor-specific T cells and to make them seek out and destroy cancer cells. We have chosen a partly alternative strategy and developed a method reminiscent of vaccination, where we via an injection make the tumor visible to the immune system and accelerate the production of the exact T cells required,” says Sara Mangsbo, Associate Senior Lecturer at Uppsala University.

The strategy, named Antibody Drug Affinity Conjugate (ADAC), is based on creating synthetic fragments of proteins, similar to those found in the tumor and injecting them into the patient. This exposes the tumor to the immune system, which consequently begins to produce completely new, tumor-specific T cells, which in turn lead the already existing T cells to identify and destroy the tumor.

“Our key scientific progress is that ADAC enables us to extend the stability of the peptides in the body and our development of a generic method to direct them in the body, control the uptake into intended cells and thereby stimulate an increase in the number of T cells. This is a breakthrough that would not be possible without the invaluable support we have received at SciLifeLab's Drug Discovery and Development Platform,” states Sara Mangsbo.

SLL handing over research documentation
Sara Mangsbo receiving research documentation

The Drug Discovery and Development Platform at SciLifeLab is a national resource supporting pharmaceutical research. With operations at five Swedish universities - and joint representation via Uppsala University - the platform assists academic researchers in developing innovative therapeutic concepts and provides resources and expertise that enable research that would otherwise not be possible in our country.

“The strength of Sara Mangsbo's idea was obvious already at our first meeting and the approach she presented was both sophisticated and far-sighted. Now we have joined forces for close to five years which have been both stimulating and fun. Sara and her team are young and hungry, but also perceptive in their ambitions. Now they have an innovation with the potential to be quite a game changer, and it is extremely inspiring to see something so innovative originate in Sweden,” says Kristian Sandberg, head of SciLifeLab's Drug Discovery and Development Platform.

In parallel with preclinical research at Uppsala Biomedical Center, the group has already prepared the transfer to clinical studies in collaboration with Testa Center, an innovation environment and test bed for biological production located at Cytiva's site in Uppsala. Here, researchers at Uppsala University have access to high-quality equipment and expertise for upscaling biological processes, making it possible to test the potential of new ideas at an early stage, thus, reducing the risks along the way to the finished product.

Team Mangsbo on site at Testa Center
Team Mangsbo at the Testa Center lab

“Specifying a biomedical production process would require significant resources from a single research team. Sara Mangsbo contacted us at an early stage, and with our support, her team – reinforced with several skilled students – has in cost- and time-efficient ways tried and evaluated upscaling solutions of a tetravalent bispecific antibody. It has been a rewarding collaboration, and as our agreement with Uppsala University recently extended for another two years, we look forward to taking on new exciting projects,” says Jesper Hedberg, operations manager at Testa Center.

Next, Sara Mangsbo will continue to develop her method within the newly started company Strike Pharma AB, in which she unites researchers from, among others, Uppsala University and KTH. Strike Pharma AB has chosen to establish itself at Green Innovation Park, an innovation environment at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, fostering cooperation, new thinking and sustainable innovations.

“We are convinced that this is the right environment for us to take the next step in the design and production of the specific antibody we have developed. If we do reach all the way, it can significantly shorten the path to treat cancer, but we also identify great potential within viral diseases. In Strike Pharma AB, we have assembled a very competent line-up and the funding to take us a good distance along the way, so the future definitely looks promising,” says Sara Mangsbo.

Facts

  • SciLifeLabs Drug Discovery and Development Platform offers the Swedish academic research community industry standard infrastructure, expertise and strategic support for technology development or to help progress projects towards a preclinical proof-of-concept.
  • Testa center is Sweden's test bed and innovation center in bioprocess technology, allowing researchers, students and companies to test and scale up innovations in the production of biological drugs.