In September 2014, ImmunoCellular entered into a licensing agreement with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for exclusive rights to novel technology for the development of stem cell immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer. The technology originated from the labs of David Baltimore, PhD, Nobel Laureate and President Emeritus at Caltech, and utilizes the patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells to create antigen-specific killer T cells to treat cancer. ImmunoCellular plans to utilize this technology to expand and complement its dendritic cell-based cancer immunotherapy platform, with the goal of developing new immunotherapies that kill cancer cells in a highly directed and specific manner and that can function as monotherapies or in combination therapy approaches.
Caltech’s technology potentially addresses the challenge, and limitation, that TCR (T cell receptor) technologies have faced of generating a limited immune response and having an unknown persistence in the patient’s body. ImmunoCellular believes that by inserting DNA that encodes T cell receptors into stem cells rather than into T cells, the immune response can be transformed into a durable and more potent response that could effectively treat previously resilient solid cancers. This observation has been verified in animal models by investigators at Caltech and the National Cancer Institute.
In March 2017, ImmunoCellular announced successful completion of the first milestone for the Company's Stem-to-T-cell program, the sequencing of a selected T cell receptor (TCR) gene. When inserted into a blood stem cell, this TCR gene is expected to enhance patients' immune systems to produce killer T cells programmed to attack tumors. This Stem-to-T-cell therapeutic strategy has the potential to provide a safer, sustainable and more specific immune treatment for cancer.
Achieving this milestone required completion of several critical steps: the collection and analysis of multiple clones of cells containing the target TCR genes, harvesting the plasmids with the TCR gene, and then sequencing that gene. Next, ImmunoCellular Therapeutics will initiate development of the gene therapy component. This phase entails loading the TCR gene sequence into a viral vector (such as a lentivirus) for delivery into the patient's hematopoietic stem cells which could become, in essence, an internal factory producing antigen-specific killer T cells. Once these fundamental elements are in place, a product candidate for testing in cell lines and suitable preclinical models may be generated. Successful testing would potentially lead to human clinical trials.