VUB researchers and start-up Esobiotec pursue affordable cancer immunotherapy

In-patient cell engineering to upgrade immune cells’ capacity to identify and destroy cancer cells is the challenge taken on by the Walloon startup Esobiotec, founded by Jean-Pierre Latere, and two VUB researchers and their teams: Nick Devoogdt from the Medical Imaging department (MIMA) and Karine Breckpot from the the Laboratory for Molecular and Cellular Therapy (LMCT).

The immune system can recognize cancer cells as these express unique proteins (tumor antigens). These antigens serve as an ‘ID’ for T cells, immune cells with their own unique proteins (receptors) that scan the ‘ID’ of cells. This knowledge led to the use of T cells in cancer immunotherapy. Therapy with T cells that were manipulated in the lab to express so-called ‘chimeric antigen receptors’ or CAR, improved man-made receptors, has proven efficacious in blood cancers. As a result, this CAR-T therapy is extensively being studied across a large number of other cancer types as well.

Alas, this therapy is undeniably expensive, as it requires isolation of T cells from patients’ blood followed by their manipulation in the laboratory. Therefore, Esobiotec and VUB aim to develop cost-effective and off-the-shelf therapeutics that are inspired on this promising cancer immunotherapy. To achieve this goal, technologies developed at ICMI and LMCT will be leveraged to manipulate the cell directly in the blood, without having to isolate them first from the body. This disruptive approach holds the potential to transform the current standard of cell and gene therapies for cancer treatment.

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Left: prof. dr. Karine Breckpot, right: prof. dr. Nick Devoogdt