ACRF-Funded Equipment Crucial to Immunotherapy Trial for Children

In 2017, ACRF awarded the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute a grant totalling $1.75M. The funds were used to expand their existing cell manufacturing facility and buy new equipment needed to produce cellular immunotherapies.

In January 2021, the institute announced the trial of a new cellular immunotherapy (T-Cell therapy) aimed at preventing dangerous side effects for children who undergo stem cell transplants.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Centre for Immunotherapy and Vaccine Development, Professor Rajiv Khanna AO, confirmed that sterility testing equipment and a large capacity control-rate freezer, purchased thanks to ACRF funding, are crucial to the trial.

“Quality testing and long-term storage of T-Cell therapies are critical steps in our ability to offer a high-quality, safe therapy to each child enrolled in our clinical trial,” he said.

Professor Khanna explained the need for T-Cell therapies, how they are made and the role of ACRF-funded equipment in this process.

“Before a patient receives a stem cell transplant, certain immune cells – including killer T Cells – are removed from the donor’s cells. This lowers the risk of potentially fatal complications like graft-versus-host disease, where the donor’s immune cells attack the recipient’s tissues. However, this necessary step leaves transplant patients at high risk of developing viral infections because they do not have the disease-fighting cells to control infection.

“By taking white blood cells from the same donor and training them in the laboratory to recognise and destroy cells infected with the four most common viruses that affect these patients, we hope to effectively prevent complications arising,”

The T-Cell therapies (also referred to as “living drugs”) must undergo stringent quality control testing and be stored at an ultralow temperature (-190°C), before being administered. This is where ACRF funded equipment plays a crucial role.

According to Professor Khanna, “A crucial aspect in the successful manufacture of T-Cell therapies is quality control. Each product must undergo this testing to ensure it is free from microbial contamination and safe for patient use … our T-Cell therapy manufacturing process is critically dependent on our ability to store large batches of it for future infusion into patients.”

Automated sterility testing equipment, purchased with the ACRF grant awarded in 2017, has accelerated the quality control process. Professor Khanna said that sterility testing, utilising this equipment, is completed in five days instead of the traditional 14, allowing for faster release of the T-Cell therapy. This equates to patients, who may be critically ill, having access to the treatment sooner. In addition, Mycoplasma testing software, also purchased with ACRF funding, is being utilised in the quality control process.

The institute also purchased a large capacity control-rate freezer with the same grant which, as reported by Professor Khanna, enables high-quality, long-term storage and recovery of T-Cells before infusion.

Professor Khanna said, “Without ACRF funding we would not have been able to purchase this critical equipment and offer T-Cell therapies to our patients.”

Each child enrolled in the trial, receives fortnightly T-Cell therapy infusions once their stem cell transplant has engrafted (a 2-to-4-week process), with the aim to boost their immune system before they show any sign of viral complications.

ACRF are proud to have funded equipment that is crucial to the manufacture of an immunotherapy treatment, working towards improved treatment and outcomes for children who receive stem cell transplants.

Breakthroughs like this are made possible by the generous support of people like you. If you would like to financially support cancer research please go to acrf.com.au/donate

View the 2017 ACRF Centre for Advanced Cellular Immunotherapy Research grant details here.