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Innovation Management

Medigene licenses Helmholtz molecule for the treatment of cancer

Medigene AG and Helmholtz Zentrum München have signed an exclusive licensing agreement for a chimeric co-stimulatory receptor molecule. It is designed to enable the immune system of cancer patients to attack solid tumors more effectively.

T cells attack a tumor cell and secrete lytic proteins (red/yellow) in order to destroy it. © Helmholtz Zentrum München

Taking a wide range of different forms and affecting millions of individuals, cancer remains a major scourge around the world. Scientists are working full tilt to come up with new treatments, and for some time now they have been focusing on the body's immune system. "Above all, we’re interested in T cells, which can trigger attack mechanisms but which are often inhibited by the hostile microenvironment created by tumors," explains Prof. Dr. Elfriede Nössner, head of the Research Unit Tissue Control of Immunocytes at Helmholtz Zentrum München. "Specifically, T cells are impeded by so called checkpoint molecules."

To help T cells to overcome these barriers, she and her team have developed a molecule – or to be more precise, they have merged two known molecules to form a fusion protein. Part of the fusion protein comes from the PD-1 molecule, which cancer cells often use to block immune cells. However, in this case PD-1 is not used in its native form. Instead, it is fused with the protein 4-1BB, which stimulates the activation of T cells. "As a result, T cells react particularly aggressively when tumors attempt to hinder them," Nössner says. The PD-1/4-1BB chimeric molecule is therefore designed to help T cells pass the checkpoint by converting the stop command into a go signal.

Medigene is acquiring a worldwide, exclusive license for the therapeutic and diagnostic use of this chimeric co-stimulatory receptor in the field of TCR-therapy (TCR-T) and dendritic cell (DC) vaccines. In the next step, the company plans to test the licensed chimeric co-stimulatory receptor in combination with its T-cell receptor-modified T cells (TCR-Ts) for the treatment of solid tumors in preclinical models. "This license agreement is a prime example of how excellent research at Helmholtz Zentrum München leads to  value creation," explains Dr. Annette Janz, Head of Innovation Management at Helmholtz Zentrum München. “We are pleased that we can strengthen our successful partnership with Medigene by developing this innovative approach.”

Further Information

Follow this link to read the Medigene press release.

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.