Dr. Riam Shammaa
Founder & CEO, IntelliStem Technologies
A Canadian team of scientists develop the first-of-its-kind multicellular therapy to kill difficult cancers.
In the last few years, cell therapy — using a patient’s own cells to kill cancer — has shown much promise. Chimeric antigen receptor T-cells (or CAR T-cells) are taken from the patient’s blood, genetically engineered to target a specific antigen on the cancer, and then injected back to kill the cancer. CAR T-cells have shown promise in certain pediatric leukemias, but the therapy faces multiple challenges. For example, most cancers don’t only have one main antigen but many. The therapy has also faced serious challenges with solid tumours such as breast cancer, due to the difficulty of penetrating the tumour’s microenvironment.
MCT represents the next generation of cancer immune therapy.
To solve these challenges and improve cancer treatment, a team of scientists led by Dr. Riam Shammaa is revolutionizing stem cell therapy. They recognized that the moment they started targeting cancer cells with treatment, the cancer would adapt. “The cancer is able to camouflage and change the antigens on its surface and is more successful than us in playing the environment. To send one type of engineered stem cells to the cancer is like sending one soldier against an army. The cancer is using so many tools, but we’re only using one,” says Dr. Shammaa, Founder and CEO of IntelliStem Technologies.
Taking cancer immune therapy to the next level
To mount a better attack against cancer cells, Dr. Shammaa and his team introduced the concept of multicellular therapy (MCT) — multiple kinds of engineered cells to target and attack the cancer from multiple angles. In studies, the team introduced multiple kinds of immune cells, and they mixed some genetically-engineered immune cells with some taken from the cancer environment. In doing so, they programmed the different immune cells to detect and attack multiple aspects of the cancer. The cocktail of cells was then injected into the animals. Not only was MCT able to kill cancer cells, it also showed an 80 percent improvement in survival compared to the older technology.
“MCT represents the next generation of cancer immune therapy,” says Dr. Shammaa, explaining how MTC works. “In biology, one cell doesn’t do all the work — immune cells coordinate and speak with each other in order to mount a response against cancer cells or infections using different kinds of cytokines, antibodies, and toxicity.
“We’re learning from Mother Nature that MTC immune therapy gives our cells an advantage in the fight against aggressive cancer cells,” Dr. Shammaa adds.
MCT to revolutionize immunotherapy
“Now, those cells can make sure that the cancer cannot camouflage itself or evade the immune system and those cancer cells are destroyed.”
Dr. Shammaa’s team is now preparing to file a phase 1 human clinical trials to study the therapy.
“MCT represents the next step in the fight against cancer,” says Dr. Shammaa. “Now cancer has a lower chance of surviving. The treatment can have a bigger impact and we can ease suffering and save lives.”