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Research into immune therapies for cancer boosted by Mark Foundation ASPIRE award

5 January 2022

Dr Claire Roddie and Professor Tariq Enver from UCL’s Cancer Institute have been awarded an ASPIRE award for their work on T-cell reprogramming for the treatment of cancers.

UCL Cancer Institute

Dr Claire Roddie and Professor Tariq Enver from UCL’s Cancer Institute have been awarded an ASPIRE award for their work on T-cell reprogramming for the treatment of cancers. They plan to ‘super charge’ Tumour Infiltrating Lymphocyte (TIL) therapy for cancer. The award has been made by The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, a US-based philanthropic organisation which partners with scientists to accelerate research that will transform the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through grants and early-stage venture investments.   

TIL therapy can cure some patients with the skin cancer malignant melanoma, but to date, success has been limited in other cancers due to factors such as poor TIL cell numbers and impaired TIL function. 

Dr Roddie and Professor Enver’s project aims to enhance TIL therapy for cancer, using stem cell biology to ‘rejuvenate’ and expand TILs into banks of induced pluripotent stem cells (T-iPSCs). Their project will determine whether ‘rejuvenated’ T-iPSC-TILs will grow and kill cancer cells more effectively than conventional TILs. 

TIL therapy is a type of immunotherapy, which uses the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. TILs differ from conventional cancer treatments in that they can be selective, discriminating between normal and cancerous cells. This means that many of the common side-effects associated with conventional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy may potentially be avoided.  

The opportunity to create a T-iPSC bank may also provide a potentially unlimited supply of rejuvenated patient TILs, such that patients could receive multiple doses if their cancer returns after initial treatment.  

Dr Roddie said of the award: “I am delighted that our research into rejuvenated TILs has been recognised by the Mark Foundation for its potential impact in cancer therapeutics.  Awards such as this are crucial in enabling our team to develop new approaches at pace and scale, and to answer some key questions about how these new treatments could transform cancer care in the future. We hope that this award will enable us to provide clear evidence of the feasibility of developing next-generation TIL therapies that are more effective and more widely applicable than currently available treatments.”  

The Mark Foundation’s ASPIRE (Accelerating Scientific Platforms and Innovative Research) program provides philanthropic funding to enable innovative approaches to solving impactful problems in cancer research. These awards support high-risk, high-reward projects that answer key feasibility and proof-of-concept questions.  

Dr Roddie and Professor Enver’s ASPIRE award is one of 23 awards made to scientists working across the spectrum of cancer research at top academic institutions throughout the United States and internationally.  

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