The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) announce a major collaboration focused on neoantigens. The search for these unique cancer markers has become a robust area of research as scientists believe they may hold the key to developing a new generation of personalized, targeted cancer immunotherapies.
This new collaboration, the Tumor neoantigEn SeLection Alliance (TESLA), includes 30 of the world's leading cancer neoantigen research groups from both academia and industry. Because these tumor markers are both specific to each individual and unlikely to be present on normal healthy cells, neoantigens represent an optimal target for the immune system and make possible a new class of highly personalized vaccines with the potential for significant efficacy with reduced side effects.
"Bringing together the world's best neoantigen research organizations to accelerate the discovery of personalized cancer immunotherapies is exactly the type of bold research collaboration that I envisioned when launching the Parker Institute," said Sean Parker, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. "This alliance will not only leverage the immense talents of each of the researchers but will also harness the power of bioinformatics, which I believe will be critical to driving breakthroughs."
The goal of the initiative is to help participating groups test and continually improve the mathematical algorithms they use to analyze tumor DNA and RNA sequences in order to predict the neoantigens that are likely to be present on each patient's cancer and most visible to the immune system. In support of this, Parker Institute and CRI have partnered with renowned open science nonprofit, Sage Bionetworks, to manage the bioinformatics and data analysis.
Initially, the project is expected to focus on cancers such as advanced melanoma, colorectal cancer and non-small cell lung cancer that tend to have larger numbers of mutations and thus more neoantigens. Over time, the initiative will seek to broaden the relevance of neoantigen vaccines to a wide range of cancers.
Participants come from universities, biotech, the pharmaceutical industry and scientific nonprofits. The researchers represent a wide swath of scientific fields, including immunology, data science, genomics, molecular biology, and physics and engineering.
"This project embodies the spirit of collaboration and partnership between academia, industry and nonprofits that the Parker Institute strives to foster," said Jeffrey Bluestone, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. "It is a great example of how we are breaking down traditional barriers to conduct groundbreaking, multidisciplinary science to get cancer treatments to patients faster."
"The Cancer Research Institute and the Parker Institute share a belief that the immune system is a platform technology that can be harnessed to turn all cancers into a curable disease," said Adam Kolom, Parker Institute vice president of business development and strategic partnerships and CRI's Clinical Accelerator program director. "We believe that by bringing together the top laboratories in the world that are developing neoantigen prediction software, we will be able to unlock the promise of this next generation of personalized cancer immunotherapies sooner."
This marks the first major collaboration between the San Francisco-based Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, launched in April 2016, and the Cancer Research Institute, founded in 1953 in New York City.
"We're proud to join the Parker Institute in this collaboration, which demonstrates the vital role that nonprofits can play in bringing together stakeholders from across sectors to work alongside one another to advance the field of cancer immunotherapy," said Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., Cancer Research Institute CEO and director of scientific affairs.
Participating researchers said they looked forward to working collaboratively through the alliance to solve one of immunotherapy's most complex problems.
"This experiment is truly remarkable because of its potential to help us more precisely identify abnormal proteins in an individual's tumor that can be used as targets for personalized cancer immunotherapy," said professor Robert D. Schreiber, Ph.D., director of the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology & Immunotherapy Programs at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "We believe that this type of precision medicine, used alone or with other forms of immunotherapy, will significantly improve our capacity to treat cancer patients more effectively and with fewer side effects than current treatments."
Neoantigens are markers present on the surface of cancer cells but absent on normal tissue, making them attractive drug target candidates. They commonly arise from mutations that occur as tumor cells rapidly divide and multiply. The immune system can recognize these markers as "foreign," and as a result, target the cancer cell for destruction. In order to predict which neoantigens will be present on a patient's tumor, researchers have developed software programs to analyze tumor DNA and output the unique set of markers that the immune system is most likely to recognize.
What the Alliance Will Do
Participating research groups will receive genetic sequences from both normal and cancerous tissues. Using each laboratory's own algorithms, each group will output a set of predicted neoantigens that are anticipated to be present on the tumor cells and recognizable by the immune system. The predictions will then be validated through a series of tests to assess which predictions are most likely to be correct and recognizable by T-cells. Through this effort, each participant will be provided with data to inform and to further improve their algorithms and therefore the potential effectiveness of personalized neoantigen vaccines for cancer.