Project "Herophilus" aims to propose a new therapeutic approach for pancreatic cancer immunotherapy, by utilizing CAR-NK Cells and induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), derived from somatic cells of healthy donors. Our mission is to offer hope and healing to those battling this formidable disease. Explore our work, meet our passionate team, and join us on the journey towards a brighter future for pancreatic cancer patients!
In 2023, an estimated 64,050 adults (33,130 men and 30,920 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 50,550 of them are going to die. In both men and women, the number of new cases of pancreatic cancer has gone up by around 1% each year since the late 1990s. It is one of the few cancers for which survival has not substantially improved over the past 25 years and 80-85% percent of the cases are inoperable after diagnosis with metastases. Below you may take a look at each continent's pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality rates.
Although pancreatic cancer is relatively rare, it is associated with the most unfavorable prognosis among the solid types of cancer with approximately a 12% 5-year survival rate. Its detection in an early stage is very difficult due to the anatomical position of the pancreas which makes such tumors rapidly metastatic and asymptomatic. Since there are currently no cellular immunotherapies targeting pancreatic tumors, we aim to fill this market gap by developing an “off-the-shelf” therapy, to improve patients’ survival rates and quality of life.
We harnessed the power of Synthetic Biology and we designed CAR-NK (Chimeric Antigen Receptor-Natural Killer) cells derived from induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) through second-generation lentiviral plasmids to bind specifically to Mesothelin (MSLN). Mesothelin is a glycophosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchored protein that is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer cells. Our chimeric receptor has the ability to target this membrane protein even when it is proteolytically cleaved by enzymes expressed in tumor cells. The binding of mesothelin to our synthetic receptor activates the cytotoxic power of CAR-NK cells and the cancer cells are neutralized.
"CAR-cells are classified as “a living drug” as they are living cells that multiply in the patient's body and provide long term anti-cancer memory". In recent years, cell therapy with Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CAR-Cell Therapy) has revolutionized the field of immunotherapy. These cells are genetically modified to express a chimeric receptor that binds to a surface antigen, specific to cancer cells, inducing immune response. Six CAR-T cell therapies have been granted approval for hematological cancers by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2017.
"CAR-NK cells represent a promising approach to treating solid tumors”. CAR-NK cells present significant advantages compared to conventional therapies with CAR-T cells, such as: less side effects, better specialization, wider scope of targeting, ability to target solid tumors, simplicity of production, better immune response
"iPSCs provide a potentially universal cell source for all types of cell therapies". induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) are stem cells that arise from somatic cells after their reprogramming, which is based on the insertion of specific genes (Oct4, Sox2, Nanog) that encode transcription factors necessary for the adoption of stem cell’s characteristics. Unlike isolating primary NK cells, those prepared from iPSCs can have a homogeneous quality and are easily modified to exert a desired response to tumor cells.
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