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Research Focus: Using an antibody ''smart bomb'' to help the body fight cancer

The immune system is a powerful way in which the body can detect and kill abnormal cells

Project title: Targeting Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells (MDSCs) and Tumour-Associated Macrophages (TAMs) with the anti-CD33 immunotoxin Gemtuzumab ozogamicin to restore anti-cancer immunity

Lead investigator: Dr Francis Mussai, University of Birmingham
Funded by the Little Princess Trust in partnership with CCLG
Awarded January 2019

Award: £94,060.69

The immune system is a powerful way in which the body can detect and kill abnormal cells. We have shown that multiple adult and childhood cancers can manipulate surrounding cells, called ‘suppressor cells’, to switch off the anti-cancer immune response allowing the cancer to grow. These suppressor cells are increased in the blood and tumours of children and adults with cancer. We have also shown these suppressor cells can turn off new types of immune therapies, stopping them from being effective.

Currently there is no direct way of targeting these suppressor cells.

We have generated preliminary results which show that a type of antibody therapy can act like a smart-bomb, and specifically recognise the suppressor cells and kill them, leaving normal cells intact. In doing so the immune system becomes reactivated against the cancer. This research group has previous experience in the biology of these suppressor cells and also in the development of antibody-smart bomb technology for paediatric patients.

In this project we will investigate the activity of this antibody against suppressor cells from the blood of different types of childhood cancer, understand how the drug works, and the positive effects on the immune response. The antibody smart bomb is currently used to treat adult and childhood patients with blood cancers and has a good safety profile. Our initial discussions with clinical trials colleagues suggests we could rapidly bring our findings into a clinical trial if our data continues to be promising with the support of this project grant.

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The MBE for voluntary groups was awarded to The Little Princess Trust by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.