Cancer medicine research advances with TIA expertise

Researchers will use TIA facilities and expertise to advance their work to discover a targeted medicine that boosts the immune system to fight cancer.

They will use TIA’s Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation (CDCO) to identify a therapeutic that improves success rates of cancer immunotherapy, with fewer side

effects than traditional chemotherapy and, in many cases, improved patient outcomes.

Associate Professor Joost Lesterhuis said his teams at the University of Western Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute worked on molecules that target a specific protein in the body.

Associate Professor Joost Lesterhuis and Associate Professor Matthew Piggott

“We have found a type of protein that plays a key role in blocking a person’s immune response and ability to fight diseases such as cancer,” Dr Lesterhuis said.

“Our team has been developing a research model that knocks out the protein and has been building a detailed understanding of the impact of that.

“We are now creating molecules that successfully attach to the specific proteins we want to target, without interfering with similar healthy proteins, and disable their ability to block immune responses.”

Dr Lesterhuis said the aim was to improve cancer immunotherapy, a form of treatment that presently works well for some people with melanoma, lung and bladder cancer and several tumour types.

“Most cancer types do not respond to this type of therapy – and even in the cancer types that do respond, it still is only in a minority of patients.”

His teams are working with the CDCO at Monash University to study the chemical and biological properties of their molecules, their distribution around the body and how they safely break down.

Dr Lesterhuis secured access to CDCO through TIA’s Pipeline Accelerator scheme, with the CDCO involved in study design, data analysis and interpretation, and guidance on potential follow-up research.

“Together with the CDCO, the research team will select the molecules with the best properties to progress to preclinical testing for safety, toxicity and efficacy.”

Dr Lesterhuis and Associate Professor Matt Piggott also formed spin-out company Setonix Pharmaceuticals in June to take the research from the laboratory into the medical clinic.

“We have now entered the optimisation stage of our research, synthesising the molecules and studying them to ensure they successfully attach to the protein we are interested in and enter the target cells.

“Then they need to do the job they were designed for – produce a set of complex biological responses that aids the immune system to fight the cancer.”