New immunotherapy collaboration between UWA and MSD

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The University of Western Australia and Merck Sharp & Dohme have entered into a new research partnership to explore how tumours can be made more responsive to immunotherapy treatments.

Cancer immunotherapies, including checkpoint blocking antibodies such as MSD’s PBS-listed KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab), have shown positive results in a number of different cancer types.

It is thought the effectiveness of these treatments may be enhanced by giving patients other drugs at the same time.

Dr Louis Pymar, senior commercialisation officer at UWA said the connection with MSD brought together world-class research at UWA with a company leading the immuno-oncology field.

“MSD and UWA will work together to examine tumour-associated blood vessels and lymph node-like structures within tumours, with a view to devising new combination treatment approaches,” said Dr Pymar.

The project builds on the work of Professor Ruth Ganss from UWA and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research who has pioneered the use of ‘immuno-cytokine’ agents to 'normalise' disorganised blood vessels within tumours and to induce formation of specialised cell structures within tumours which act as 'portals' for the mass influx of immune cells.

“Lymph nodes, a vital component of our immune system, normally only exist outside of the cancer and work to filter cancer cells and generate white blood cells that fight infection,” said Professor Ganss.

“The treatments we are developing trigger the lymph-node-structures within the cancer, so that current immunotherapies that have been approved for clinical use can work more effectively.

“We envision that a combination of our treatments and existing immunotherapies will greatly enhance the outcomes for patients in the future.”

Phil Kearney, MSD business development and licensing, said the partnership was another example of MSD accessing world-leading science here in Australia in an effort to bring new medicines to cancer patients.