Cancer

Coding Dimension ID: 
280
Coding Dimension path name: 
Cancer

The Use of Microfluidic Chambers and Microtechnology to Study hESC-derived Neural Cells

Funding Type: 
SEED Grant
Grant Number: 
RS1-00210
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) have the potential to revolutionize medical therapeutics by providing transplantable cells for future treatments of a variety of disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, and degenerative and traumatic nerve diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and spinal cord injury. It is imperative to determine which hESC lines are superior candidates for use in these treatments, prior to use in humans, since it is well accepted that there are subtle differences between the currently available cell lines. It is likely that these rather subjectively observed differences between commonly used cell lines will translate into variably successful cell-based therapies unless these differences are taken into account early in the course of stem cell research. The goal of this research is to utilize microtechnology to objectively compare the function and health of differentiated cells derived from various hESC lines so that optimal choices of stem cells can be determined for cell-based therapies of neurologic diseases. It is our hypothesis that neurons derived from different stem cell lines will demonstrate subtle differences in their physiology when compared side by side with the use of microtechnology tools such as microfluidic chips. These chips use tiny grooves to isolate the neuron’s cell body from their axons that will grow across the grooves into a separate chamber for study. These chips will be attached to arrays of microelectrodes and then used to isolate axons for electrical measurements. Once the axons grow across the grooved barrier and the multielectrode array into the isolation chamber, specific parameters will be recorded to determine the healthiest and most functional cell lines. In addition, the axon shape and appearance will be analyzed by optical and fluorescent microscopy. We anticipate that the results will show that stem cell lines are not interchangeable for different purposes and that they can be objectively evaluated using this microfludic platform. This type of quality control is essential. The effects of variable agents that these transplanted cells might encounter in the body can also be evaluated, such as immune system factors and pharmacologic compounds. Additionally, the design of the microfluidic chip can be altered in the future to best accommodate and test different cell types from other organ systems.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
California led the nation in acknowledging the potential benefit of using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for medical research. More significantly, they committed the resources to explore these benefits by establishing CIRM. The research proposed in this application will use microtechnology tools to evaluate the quality of different hESC lines as a source for transplantable human neural cells. This type of quality assurance is essential prior to use of hESC cell-based therapies in human subjects. We are hopeful that this research will show that technology can provide the tools to adequately evaluate hESC lines, while minimizing the sacrifice of experimental animals for this purpose. This chip can also be used to evaluate the effects of variable agents that these transplanted cells might encounter in vivo, such as cytokines and other inflammatory factors, and pharmacologic compounds. In addition, based on the small scale of these test chambers, massively parallel, automated, pre-programmed studies can be carried out allowing systematic trial of thousands of combinations of conditions at minimal financial expense for high throughput screening of the hESC progeny. This could lead to industrial development of this microtechnology for the study of hESCs. Finally, the design of the microfluidic chip can be altered to best accommodate different cell types (islet cells, cardiac muscle, etc.) for optimal testing of progeny for diseases of other organ systems. We feel that applying this “cutting edge” microfluidic and MEA technology to the “cutting edge” biology of hESCs is very innovative. Although it might be considered risky by some, the results could help to change how cell-based therapies are developed and tested, and optimize the chances of success for this application of hESCs. We therefore believe that this research is well aligned with the goals of the CIRM Seed Grant Research Program, and proving the utility of this tool will be of great benefit to the State of California and its citizens.
Progress Report: 
  • Human embryonic stem cells contain roughly 3 million “jumping genes” or mobile genetic retroelements that comprise up to 45% of human genome. While many of these retroelements have been silenced during evolution by crippling mutations, many remain active and capable of jumping to new chromosomal locations potentially producing disease-causing mutations or cancer. In tissues, mobility of these elements is suppressed by DNA methylation, which inactivates expression of the retroelement RNAs. In sharp contrast, embryonic stem cells exhibit very dynamic changes in DNA methylation, where the methylation patterns are gained and lost at high rates. During periods of low DNA methylation, retroelement RNA expression likely increases. Accordingly, hESCs must deploy other defensive strategies in order to maintain genomic integrity. Recent studies have identified the APOBEC3 family of genes (A3A-A3H) as powerful antiviral factors. These A3s interrupt the conversion of viral RNA into DNA (reverse transcription), a key step also employed by retroelements for their successful retrotransposition. We hypothesized that one or more of the APOBECs function as guardians of genome integrity in hESCs. In the last two years we have found that six out of the seven human A3 genes located in a tandem array on chromosome 22 are expressed in hESCs. A3A, which in prior studies was suggested to exert the greatest anti-retroelement effects, surprisingly is not expressed in hESCs. Further, we find that the A3 proteins decrease when pluripotent cells differentiate into somatic cells suggesting an important function of these A3 proteins in pluripotent hESCs. We established a LINE1 retrotransposition assay in hESCs that allows us to visualize genetic jumping of this class of “marked” retroelements via flow cytometry. Using this assay we have found that LINE1 elements effectively jump in hESCs. To test our central hypothesis, namely that A3 proteins guard the genome in hESCs, we have established experimental conditions for RNAi knock-down of all expressed A3 genes. By combining the knock-down and the retrotransposition assay we demonstrated that the knock-down of one member of the A3 protein family leads to a 3.5-fold increase in LINE1 retrotranspositon. This finding highlights a protective role for the A3 family of cytidine deaminases that helps safeguard the genome integrity of hESCs.

Stem Cell-Based Targeted Immune Therapy for Cancer

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01485
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Science has made great progress in the treatment of certain cancers with targeted and combination therapies, yet prolonged remissions or cures are rare because most cancer therapies only inhibit cell growth and/or reduce such growth but do not stop the cancer. The study investigators propose to develop two Investigational New Drug (IND) applications within the grant period for the genetic modification of hematopoietic (blood) stem cells (HSC) from patients with advanced forms of an aggressive skin cancer (malignant melanoma) to genetically redirect the patient’s immune response to specifically attack the cancer. Evaluation of effectiveness and immune response during treatment will use imaging with Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans. The HSC treatment approach has been validated in extensive studies in the laboratory. The investigators of this grant have recently initiated a clinical trial where adult immune cells obtained from blood are genetically modified to become specific killer cells for melanoma. These cells are administered back to patients. The early data from this study is encouraging in terms of the ability to generate these cells, safely administer them to patients leading to beneficial early clinical effects. However, the adult immune cells genetically redirected to cancer cells slowly decrease over time because they do not have the ability to self-renew. The advantage of the proposed HSC method over adult blood cells is that the genetically modified HSC will continuously generate melanoma-targeted immune killer cells, providing prolonged protection against the cancer. The 1st IND filing (year 2/quarter 2) will use the modified HSC in end-stage melanoma patients. By the end of year 4, we will expand our efforts to a 2nd IND for a new engineered HSC clinical trial that will increase the specificity of the HSC to other cancers. The therapeutic principles and procedures we develop will be applicable to a wide range of cancers and transferrable to other centers that perform bone marrow and HSC transplants. The aggressive milestone driven IND timeline is based on our: 1) Research that led to the selection and development of a blood cell gene for clinical use in collaboration with the leading experts in the field 2) Our wealth of investigator initiated cell based clinical research and our Human Gene Medicine Program 3) Experience receiving a combined 15 investigator initiated INDs for research with 157 patients in Phase I and II trials 4) Ability to leverage significant institutional resources of on-going HSC laboratory and clinical research and co-support with over $1M of non-CIRM funds to pursue the proposed research goals, including the resulting clinical trial
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Cancer is the leading cause of death in the US and melanoma incidence is increasing the fastest (~69K new cases/year). Treatment of metastatic melanoma is an unmet local and national medical need (~9K deaths/year) striking adults in their prime (30-60 years old). Melanoma is the second greatest cancer cause of lost productive years given its incidence early in life and its high mortality once it metastasizes. The problem is severe in California in large populations with skin types sensitive to the increased exposure of ultraviolet light. Most frequently seen in young urban Caucasians, melanoma also strikes other ethnicities with steady increases of acral melanoma in Latinos and African-Americans over the past decades. Although great progress has been made in the treatment of certain leukemias and lymphomas with targeted and combination therapies, few options exist for the definitive treatment of late stage solid tumors. When cancers like lung, breast, prostate, pancreas, and melanoma metastasize beyond surgical boundaries, prolonged remissions or cures are rare and most cancer therapies only inhibit cell growth and/or reduce such growth but do not stop the cancer. Our proposal which contains 2 INDs for the genetic modification of the patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) for the immunotherapy of end-stage melanoma allowing sustained production of cancer-reactive blood cells, has the potential to address a significant and serious unmet clinical need for the treatment of melanoma and other cancers, increase patient survival and productivity, and decrease cancer related health care costs. The advantage of the proposed HSC methodology over our current work with peripheral blood is that genetically modified stem cells in the patient’s body will continuously generate melanoma-targeted blood cells providing prolonged protection against the cancer. During the grant period we will also develop and produce a GMP quality second IND vector expressing a T cell receptor for NY-ESO, an antigen expressed by 10-30% of all cancers, thereby broadening the applicability of this approach. The therapeutic principles and procedures developed here will be applicable to a wide range of cancers. GMP reagents and clinical protocols developed by our team will be transferrable to other centers where bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation procedures are done. Our institution, with its college and multiple professional schools, receives over $900M in extramural research support with a major economic impact throughout the region. The proposal will build upon a strong foundation of basic and clinical research and further solidify on-going institutional collaborations that will further link the activities of four premier research institutions.
Progress Report: 
  • Our program is focused on producing new therapeutic candidates to prolong remission and potentially cure highly lethal cancers where patients have few alternative treatment options. We have selected Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) as the initial clinical indication for evaluating our novel therapeutics, but anticipate a full development program encompassing many other types of solid tumor cancers.
  • Our strategy is to develop an antibody that binds to and eliminates the cancer-forming stem cells in leukemia and other solid tumors. While current cancer treatments (e.g. surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) will frequently get rid of the bulk of the tumor, they rarely touch the tiny number of cancer stem cells that actually re-generate the masses of cancer cells that have been eliminated. When the latter occurs, the patient is described as having a relapse, leading to a disease recurrence with poor prognosis. Our strategy is to eliminate the small number of cancer-regenerating stem cells by targeting cell membrane proteins expressed by these cells.
  • We have discovered that many cancer cells coat themselves with a protein called CD47 that prevents them from being eaten and disposed of by the patient’s blood cells. In this context, CD47 can be considered a ‘don’t eat me’ signal that protects the cancer cells from being phagocytosed i.e. ‘eaten’. The antibody we are developing binds to and covers the ‘don’t eat me’ CD47 protein, so that the patient’s blood cells are now able to ‘eat’ the cancer cells by standard physiological responses, and eliminate them from the body.
  • Developing an antibody such as this for use in humans requires many steps to evaluate it is safe, while at the same ensuring it targets and eliminates the cancer forming stem cells. The antibody must also ‘look’ like a human antibody, or else the patient will ‘see’ it as a foreign protein and reject it. To achieve these criteria, we have made humanized antibodies that bind to human CD47. We have shown that the antibodies eliminate cancer cells in two ways: (i) blood cells from healthy humans rapidly “ate” and killed leukemia cells collected from separate cancer patients when the anti-human CD47 antibody was added to a mixture of both cell types in a research laboratory test tube; (ii) the anti-human CD47 antibody eliminates human leukemia cells collected from patients, then transferred into special immunodeficient mice which are unable to eliminate the human tumor cells themselves. In these experiments, the treated mice remained free of the human leukemia cells for many weeks post-treatment, and could be regarded as being cured of malignancy.
  • To show the antibodies were safe, we administered to regular mice large amounts of a comparable anti-mouse CD47 antibody on a daily basis for a period of many months. No adverse effects were noted. Unfortunately our antibody to human CD47 did not bind to mouse CD47, so it’s safety could not be evaluated directly in mice. Since the anti-human CD47 antibody does bind to non-human primate CD47, safety studies for our candidate therapeutic need to be conducted in non-human primates. These studies have been initiated and are in progress. Following administration of the anti-human CD47 antibodies, the non-human primates will be monitored for clinical blood pathology, which, as in humans, provides information about major organ function as well as blood cell function in these animals.
  • The next step after identifying an antibody with strong anti-cancer activity, but one that can be safely administered to non-human primates without causing any toxic effects, is to make large amounts of the antibody for use in humans. Any therapeutic candidate that will be administered to humans must be made according to highly regulated procedures that produce an agent that is extremely “clean”, meaning free of viruses, other infectious agents, bacterial products, and other contaminating proteins. This type of production work can only be performed in special facilities that have the equipment and experience for this type of clinical manufacturing. We have contracted such an organization to manufacture clinical grade anti-human CD47 antibodies. This organization has commenced the lengthy process of making anti-CD47 antibody that can be administered to humans with cancer. It will take another 18 months to complete the process of manufacturing clinical grade material in sufficient quantities to run a Phase I clinical trial in patients with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.
  • Our program is focused on producing new therapeutic candidates to prolong remission and potentially cure highly lethal cancers where patients have few alternative treatment options. Our strategy is to develop an antibody that will eliminate the cancer stem cells which are the source of the disease, and responsible for the disease recurrence that can occur months-to-years following the remission achieved with initial clinical treatment. The cancer stem cells are a small proportion of the total cancer cell burden, and they appear to be resistant to the standard treatments of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Therefore new therapeutic approaches are needed to eliminate them.
  • In year 2 of the CIRM award, we have continued to develop a clinical-grade antibody that will eliminate the cancer stem cells in Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). We have identified several antibodies that cause human leukemia cells to be eaten and destroyed by healthy human white blood cells when tested in cell culture experiments. These antibodies bind to a protein called CD47 that is present on the outer surface of human leukemia cells. The anti-CD47 antibodies can eliminate leukemia growing in mice injected with AML cells obtained from patients. We have now extensively characterized the properties of our panel of anti-CD47 antibodies, and have identified the lead candidate to progress though the process of drug development. There are several steps in this process, which takes 18-24 months to fully execute. In the last 12 months, we have focused on the following steps:
  • (i) ‘Humanization’ of the antibody: The antibody needs to be optimized so that it looks like a normal human protein that the patient’s immune system will not eliminate because it appears ‘foreign’ to them.
  • (ii) Large scale production of the antibody: To make sufficient quantities of the antibody to complete the culture and animal model experiments required to progress to clinical safety trials with patients, we have contracted with a highly experienced manufacturing facility capable of such large-scale production. We have successfully transferred our antibody to them, and they have inserted it into a proprietary expression cell that will produce large amounts of the protein. This process is managed through weekly interactions with this contract lab. They send us small amounts of the material from each step of their manufacturing process and we test it in our models to ensure the antibody they are preparing retains its anti-cancer properties throughout production.
  • (iii) Pre-clinical safety studies: The antibody must be tested extensively in animals to ensure it does not cause serious limiting damage to any of the normal healthy tissues in the recipient. We have spent much of the last 12 months performing these types of safety experiments. The antibody has been administered to both mice and non-human primates and we have evaluated their overall health status, as well as analyzing their blood cells, blood enzyme levels, and urine, for up to 28 days. We have also collected samples of their organs and tissues to evaluate for abnormalities. Thus far, these assessments have appeared normal except for the development of a mild anemia a few days after the initial antibody injection. Subsequent experiments indicate that this anemia can be managed with existing approved clinical strategies
  • (iv) Determination of optimal dose: We have used mice injected with human cancer cells from AML patients, and determined how much antibody must be injected into these mice to produce a blood level that destroys the leukemia cells. This relationship between antibody dose and anti-cancer activity in the mouse cancer model enables us to estimate the dose to administer to patients.
  • Hematologic tumors and many solid tumors are propagated by a subset of cells called cancer stem cells. These cells appear to be resistant to the standard cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and therefore new therapeutic approaches are needed to eliminate them. We have developed a monoclonal antibody (anti-CD47 antibody) that recognizes and causes elimination of these cancer stem cells and other cells in the cancer, but not normal blood-forming stem cells or blood cells. Cancer stem cells regularly produce a cell surface ‘invisibility cloak’ called CD47, a ‘don’t eat me signal’ for cells of the native immune system. Anti-CD47 antibody counters the ‘cloak, allowing the patient’s natural immune system eating cells, called macrophages, to eliminate the cancer stem cells.
  • As discussed in our two-year report, we optimized our anti-CD47 antibody so that it looks like a normal human protein that the patient’s immune system will not eliminate because it appears ‘foreign’. In this third year of the grant, we initiated the pre-clinical development of this humanized antibody, and assigned the antibody the development name of Hu5F9. Our major accomplishments in the third year of our grant are as follows:
  • (i) In addition to the hematological malignancies we have studied in previous years, we have now demonstrated the Hu5F9 is effective at inhibiting the growth and spread throughout the body [metastasis] of a large panel of human solid tumors, including breast, bladder, colon, ovarian, glioblastoma [a very aggressive brain cancer], leiomyosarcoma, head & neck squamous cell carcinoma, and multiple myeloma.
  • (ii) We have performed extensive studies optimizing the production and purification of Hu5F9 to standards compatible with use in humans, including that it is sterile, free of contaminating viruses, microorganisms, and bacterial products. We will commence manufacturing of Hu5F under highly regulated sterile conditions to produce what is known as GMP material, suitable for use in humans.
  • (iii) Another step to show Hu5F9 is safe to administer to humans is to administer it to experimental animals and observe its effects. We have demonstrated that Hu5F9 is safe and well tolerated when administered to experimental animals. Notably, no major abnormalities are detected when blood levels of the drug are maintained in the potentially therapeutic range for an extended duration of time.
  • (iv) We have initiated discussions with the FDA regarding the readiness of our program for initiating clinical trials, which we anticipate to start in the first quarter of 2014. To prepare for these trials we have established a collaboration between the Stanford Cancer Institute and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, currently our partners in this CIRM-funded program.
  • To our knowledge, CD47 is the first common target in all human cancers, one which has a known function that enables cancers to grow and spread, and one which we have successfully targeted for cancer therapy. Our studies show that Hu5F9 is a first-in-class therapeutic candidate that offers cancer treatment a totally new mechanism of enabling the patient’s immune system to remove cancer stem cells and their metastases.

Stem cell therapies for Huntington’s Disease and other neurodegenerative disorders

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01485
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
One in every ten thousand people in the USA has Huntington's disease, and it impacts many more. Multiple generations within a family can inherit the disease, resulting in escalating health care costs and draining family resources. This highly devastating and fatal disease touches all races and socioeconomic levels, and there are currently no cures. Screening for the mutant HD gene is available, but the at-risk children of an affected parent often do not wish to be tested since there are currently no early prevention strategies or effective treatments. HD is a challenging disease to treat. Not only do the affected, dying neurons need to be salvaged or replaced, but also the levels of the toxic mutant protein must be diminished to prevent further neural damage and to halt progression of the movement disorders, physical, mental, and emotional decline that is associated with HD. Intrastriatal implantation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) has significant neurorestorative effects, in animal models. We have discovered that MSC are remarkably effective delivery vehicles, moving robustly through the tissue and infusing therapeutic molecules into each damaged cell that they contact. Thus we are utilizing nature's own paramedic system, but we are arming them with new tools to also reduce mutant protein levels and to enhance the health of at-risk neurons. Our novel animal models will allow the therapy to be carefully tested in preparation for a phase 1 clinical trial of MSC infusion into the striata to restore the health of neurons that have been damaged by the mutant htt protein. Additional proposed trials building upon the initial trial are designed to reduce harmful levels of the mutant htt protein, to provide additional factors to restore function to damaged neurons, and finally, to replace the damaged striatal neurons with new ones. The significance of our studies is very high because there are currently no treatments to diminish the amount of toxic mutant htt protein in the neurons of patients affected by Huntington’s disease. There are no cures or successful clinical trials to reverse the decline in striatal neuron number and striatal volume. Our therapeutic strategy is initially examining models to treat HD, since the need is so acute. But this biological delivery system for siRNA and BDNF could also be modified for other neurodegenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA1), Alzheimer's Disease, and some forms of Parkinson's Disease, where neuroregeneration and reduction of the levels of a mutant or disease-activating protein could be curative. Development of novel stem cell therapies is extremely important for the community of HD and neurodegenerative disease researchers, patients, and families. Since HD patients unfortunately have few other options, the benefit to risk ratio for the planned trials is extremely high.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
It is estimated that one in 10,000 CA residents have Huntington’s disease (HD). While the financial burden of HD is estimated to be in the billions, the emotional cost to friends, families, and those with or at risk for HD is immeasurable. Health care costs are extremely high for HD patients due to the long progression of the disease. The lost ability of HD patients to remain in the CA workforce and to support their families causes additional financial strain on the state’s economy. HD is inherited as an autosomal dominant trait, which means that 50% of the children of an HD patient will inherit the disease and will in turn pass it on to 50% of their children. Individuals diagnosed through genetic testing are at risk of losing insurance coverage. Since there are currently no cures or successful clinical trials to treat HD, many are reluctant to be tested. We are designing trials to treat HD through healing neurons in the earlier phases of the disease and replacing them in later stages. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) have been shown to have significant effects on restoring synaptic connections between damaged neurons, promoting neurite outgrowth, secreting anti-apoptotic factors in the brain, and regulating inflammation. In addition to many trials that have assessed the safety and efficacy of human MSC delivery to tissues via systemic IV infusion, MSC are also under consideration for treatment of disorders in the CNS, although few MSC clinical trials have started so far with direct delivery to brain or spinal cord tissue. Therefore we are conducting detailed studies in support of clinical trials that will feature MSC implantation into the brain, either alone or as supporting cells for astrocytes or NSC and hESC-derived medium spiny neurons. MSC can be transferred from one donor to the next without tissue matching because they shelter themselves from the immune system. Also, by engineering MSC to secrete siRNA to reduce levels of the mutant protein through RNA destruction, we hope to provide the patients with a long-term therapy for their disease. We have demonstrated the safe and effective production of engineered molecules from human MSC for at least 18 months, in pre-clinical animal studies. Our therapeutic strategy will initially examine models to treat HD, since the need is so acute. HD patient advocates are admirably among the most vocal in California about their desire for CIRM-funded cures, attending almost every ICOC meeting. This would be the first approved cellular therapy for HD patients and would have a major impact on those affected in California. In addition, the methods and preclinical testing that we are developing will have far-reaching impact on the treatment of other neurodegenerative disorders.
Progress Report: 
  • Our program is focused on producing new therapeutic candidates to prolong remission and potentially cure highly lethal cancers where patients have few alternative treatment options. We have selected Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) as the initial clinical indication for evaluating our novel therapeutics, but anticipate a full development program encompassing many other types of solid tumor cancers.
  • Our strategy is to develop an antibody that binds to and eliminates the cancer-forming stem cells in leukemia and other solid tumors. While current cancer treatments (e.g. surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) will frequently get rid of the bulk of the tumor, they rarely touch the tiny number of cancer stem cells that actually re-generate the masses of cancer cells that have been eliminated. When the latter occurs, the patient is described as having a relapse, leading to a disease recurrence with poor prognosis. Our strategy is to eliminate the small number of cancer-regenerating stem cells by targeting cell membrane proteins expressed by these cells.
  • We have discovered that many cancer cells coat themselves with a protein called CD47 that prevents them from being eaten and disposed of by the patient’s blood cells. In this context, CD47 can be considered a ‘don’t eat me’ signal that protects the cancer cells from being phagocytosed i.e. ‘eaten’. The antibody we are developing binds to and covers the ‘don’t eat me’ CD47 protein, so that the patient’s blood cells are now able to ‘eat’ the cancer cells by standard physiological responses, and eliminate them from the body.
  • Developing an antibody such as this for use in humans requires many steps to evaluate it is safe, while at the same ensuring it targets and eliminates the cancer forming stem cells. The antibody must also ‘look’ like a human antibody, or else the patient will ‘see’ it as a foreign protein and reject it. To achieve these criteria, we have made humanized antibodies that bind to human CD47. We have shown that the antibodies eliminate cancer cells in two ways: (i) blood cells from healthy humans rapidly “ate” and killed leukemia cells collected from separate cancer patients when the anti-human CD47 antibody was added to a mixture of both cell types in a research laboratory test tube; (ii) the anti-human CD47 antibody eliminates human leukemia cells collected from patients, then transferred into special immunodeficient mice which are unable to eliminate the human tumor cells themselves. In these experiments, the treated mice remained free of the human leukemia cells for many weeks post-treatment, and could be regarded as being cured of malignancy.
  • To show the antibodies were safe, we administered to regular mice large amounts of a comparable anti-mouse CD47 antibody on a daily basis for a period of many months. No adverse effects were noted. Unfortunately our antibody to human CD47 did not bind to mouse CD47, so it’s safety could not be evaluated directly in mice. Since the anti-human CD47 antibody does bind to non-human primate CD47, safety studies for our candidate therapeutic need to be conducted in non-human primates. These studies have been initiated and are in progress. Following administration of the anti-human CD47 antibodies, the non-human primates will be monitored for clinical blood pathology, which, as in humans, provides information about major organ function as well as blood cell function in these animals.
  • The next step after identifying an antibody with strong anti-cancer activity, but one that can be safely administered to non-human primates without causing any toxic effects, is to make large amounts of the antibody for use in humans. Any therapeutic candidate that will be administered to humans must be made according to highly regulated procedures that produce an agent that is extremely “clean”, meaning free of viruses, other infectious agents, bacterial products, and other contaminating proteins. This type of production work can only be performed in special facilities that have the equipment and experience for this type of clinical manufacturing. We have contracted such an organization to manufacture clinical grade anti-human CD47 antibodies. This organization has commenced the lengthy process of making anti-CD47 antibody that can be administered to humans with cancer. It will take another 18 months to complete the process of manufacturing clinical grade material in sufficient quantities to run a Phase I clinical trial in patients with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.
  • Our program is focused on producing new therapeutic candidates to prolong remission and potentially cure highly lethal cancers where patients have few alternative treatment options. Our strategy is to develop an antibody that will eliminate the cancer stem cells which are the source of the disease, and responsible for the disease recurrence that can occur months-to-years following the remission achieved with initial clinical treatment. The cancer stem cells are a small proportion of the total cancer cell burden, and they appear to be resistant to the standard treatments of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Therefore new therapeutic approaches are needed to eliminate them.
  • In year 2 of the CIRM award, we have continued to develop a clinical-grade antibody that will eliminate the cancer stem cells in Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). We have identified several antibodies that cause human leukemia cells to be eaten and destroyed by healthy human white blood cells when tested in cell culture experiments. These antibodies bind to a protein called CD47 that is present on the outer surface of human leukemia cells. The anti-CD47 antibodies can eliminate leukemia growing in mice injected with AML cells obtained from patients. We have now extensively characterized the properties of our panel of anti-CD47 antibodies, and have identified the lead candidate to progress though the process of drug development. There are several steps in this process, which takes 18-24 months to fully execute. In the last 12 months, we have focused on the following steps:
  • (i) ‘Humanization’ of the antibody: The antibody needs to be optimized so that it looks like a normal human protein that the patient’s immune system will not eliminate because it appears ‘foreign’ to them.
  • (ii) Large scale production of the antibody: To make sufficient quantities of the antibody to complete the culture and animal model experiments required to progress to clinical safety trials with patients, we have contracted with a highly experienced manufacturing facility capable of such large-scale production. We have successfully transferred our antibody to them, and they have inserted it into a proprietary expression cell that will produce large amounts of the protein. This process is managed through weekly interactions with this contract lab. They send us small amounts of the material from each step of their manufacturing process and we test it in our models to ensure the antibody they are preparing retains its anti-cancer properties throughout production.
  • (iii) Pre-clinical safety studies: The antibody must be tested extensively in animals to ensure it does not cause serious limiting damage to any of the normal healthy tissues in the recipient. We have spent much of the last 12 months performing these types of safety experiments. The antibody has been administered to both mice and non-human primates and we have evaluated their overall health status, as well as analyzing their blood cells, blood enzyme levels, and urine, for up to 28 days. We have also collected samples of their organs and tissues to evaluate for abnormalities. Thus far, these assessments have appeared normal except for the development of a mild anemia a few days after the initial antibody injection. Subsequent experiments indicate that this anemia can be managed with existing approved clinical strategies
  • (iv) Determination of optimal dose: We have used mice injected with human cancer cells from AML patients, and determined how much antibody must be injected into these mice to produce a blood level that destroys the leukemia cells. This relationship between antibody dose and anti-cancer activity in the mouse cancer model enables us to estimate the dose to administer to patients.
  • Hematologic tumors and many solid tumors are propagated by a subset of cells called cancer stem cells. These cells appear to be resistant to the standard cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and therefore new therapeutic approaches are needed to eliminate them. We have developed a monoclonal antibody (anti-CD47 antibody) that recognizes and causes elimination of these cancer stem cells and other cells in the cancer, but not normal blood-forming stem cells or blood cells. Cancer stem cells regularly produce a cell surface ‘invisibility cloak’ called CD47, a ‘don’t eat me signal’ for cells of the native immune system. Anti-CD47 antibody counters the ‘cloak, allowing the patient’s natural immune system eating cells, called macrophages, to eliminate the cancer stem cells.
  • As discussed in our two-year report, we optimized our anti-CD47 antibody so that it looks like a normal human protein that the patient’s immune system will not eliminate because it appears ‘foreign’. In this third year of the grant, we initiated the pre-clinical development of this humanized antibody, and assigned the antibody the development name of Hu5F9. Our major accomplishments in the third year of our grant are as follows:
  • (i) In addition to the hematological malignancies we have studied in previous years, we have now demonstrated the Hu5F9 is effective at inhibiting the growth and spread throughout the body [metastasis] of a large panel of human solid tumors, including breast, bladder, colon, ovarian, glioblastoma [a very aggressive brain cancer], leiomyosarcoma, head & neck squamous cell carcinoma, and multiple myeloma.
  • (ii) We have performed extensive studies optimizing the production and purification of Hu5F9 to standards compatible with use in humans, including that it is sterile, free of contaminating viruses, microorganisms, and bacterial products. We will commence manufacturing of Hu5F under highly regulated sterile conditions to produce what is known as GMP material, suitable for use in humans.
  • (iii) Another step to show Hu5F9 is safe to administer to humans is to administer it to experimental animals and observe its effects. We have demonstrated that Hu5F9 is safe and well tolerated when administered to experimental animals. Notably, no major abnormalities are detected when blood levels of the drug are maintained in the potentially therapeutic range for an extended duration of time.
  • (iv) We have initiated discussions with the FDA regarding the readiness of our program for initiating clinical trials, which we anticipate to start in the first quarter of 2014. To prepare for these trials we have established a collaboration between the Stanford Cancer Institute and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, currently our partners in this CIRM-funded program.
  • To our knowledge, CD47 is the first common target in all human cancers, one which has a known function that enables cancers to grow and spread, and one which we have successfully targeted for cancer therapy. Our studies show that Hu5F9 is a first-in-class therapeutic candidate that offers cancer treatment a totally new mechanism of enabling the patient’s immune system to remove cancer stem cells and their metastases.

Using Nell-1 to harness the osteogenic potential of adult stem cells

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01477
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
Solid Tumor
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Traumatic injuries are responsible for over 15% of the global health burden. Many are musculoskeletal injuries that, if untreated, can cause long-term disability. Bone regeneration is a natural process that is critical for fracture repair and for the healing of bone grafts used during skeletal reconstruction. However, aging and metabolic bone diseases like osteoporosis can negatively affect the bone regeneration capacity by reducing stem cell numbers and cell activity. The failure to heal fractures in osteoporotic patients, for instance, has been reported to be as high as 50%. Osteoporosis is by far the most common systemic disease of skeletal fragility. Up to 50% women and 20% men over age 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime. Furthermore, osteoporosis is frequently associated with other diseases like i] spinal cord injury, in which fractures are the result of limb disuse, ii] Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, in which there is an increased risk of life threatening fractures from falls, iii] malignant neoplasms invading bone that increase pathologic fracture risk and iv] organ transplant patients on chronic steroid-mediated immunosuppression. Due to changing demographics and increased life expectancy, annual osteoporotic fracture costs are projected to increase from $20 to $240 billion worldwide by 2040. Bone regeneration therapies can be cell- or non-cell based. Cell-based therapies either take the patient’s own cells (which causes significant pain and discomfort) or use cells from deceased donors. The latter requires extensive processing to remove immune components, and do not work as well as the patient’s own bone and stem cells. Non-cell based therapies are either less effective (deceased donor bone with no cells) or have undesirable effects (e.g., bone morphogenetic proteins can cause life threatening neck swelling). Current therapies also do not address the needs of osteoporotic populations where the healing environment is suboptimal and/or bone harvest from the patient’s own hip can further damage already weak bone. To address the unmet medical need, our team has developed an adult stem cell product that exceeds the efficacy and safety of current bone repair therapies. Stem cells hold great promise in their ability to regenerate damaged tissues. However, until now, stem cells have been difficult to identify and isolate in numbers sufficient for medical use without cumbersome cell culture. We have developed a highly effective and reproducible method to isolate and purify high numbers of a person’s own stem cells from fat tissues obtained through liposuction, a relatively safe and common cosmetic surgery procedure. In addition, we have developed a highly potent and bone-specific growth factor to help these stem cells form bone. Combined, the stem cell-growth factor product forms an environment that can significantly regenerate bone in normal as well as osteoporotic patients.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
This well developed proposal aims to enable IND submission for the use a novel growth factor to direct the differentiation of human perivascular stem cells within a osteogenic carrier for bone regeneration. This highly multi-disciplinary project has many near-term and long-term benefits to the State of California. 1. California’s climate is attractive to people all ages, particularly the elderly. Unfortunately, a large fraction of the aged population suffers from osteoporosis. In 1998, the health care burden for osteoporosis exceeded $2.4 billion in California alone. A whopping 64% of the $2.4 billion was caused by hip fracture. By promoting the repair of both normal and healing-impaired bone in a safe and effective manner, our mature technology will reduce the long term health care burden for California’s public health insurance program. 2. Besides direct health cost, bone injuries and diseases can result in hospitalizations and long term disabilities that can lead to sick days and lost productivity. The hard working Californians are responsible for California’s annual gross domestic product of $1.8 trillion, which rank our state among the top eight largest economies in the world. By promoting the repair of both normal and healing-impaired bone in a safe and effective manner, our mature technology will reduce the loss of work productivity at the front end, reduce work disability costs, and reduce the loss of state income tax. 3. California boasts a highly diverse population with numerous ethnic groups. While this diversity offers amazing opportunities for cross cultural discoveries, some ethnic groups (e.g. Latino and some Asian descents) may be disadvantaged in terms of donor matches for traditional stem cell sources. Our stem cell therapy can benefit these minorities and reduce the long term health care burden for California’s public health insurance program. 4. This project directly adds jobs at {REDACTED} and at the California-based companies that are involved in this project. 5. This project will procure supplies and equipment from strategic California-based companies. 6. This project will produce intellectual property that is owned by the {REDACTED}. 7. This mature project is precisely the type of cutting-edge, ethical, multi-disciplinary stem cell project that Californians imagined when they approved proposition 71 in 2004. The establishment of CIRM has transformed the research infrastructure at {REDACTED}, increased our ability to recruit world class stem cell scientists, and attracted the attention of superb scientists from other disciplines to this new field. Working together, our team has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments and we are confident in our abilities to take this project to IND submission in a timely fashion. Funding of this project will fulfill the promise of proposition 71.
Progress Report: 
  • The objective of our collaborative project is the development of therapeutic candidates that will form the basis of IND submissions designed to test a novel class of drugs for the treatment of tumor initiating cells (TICs) in three solid human malignancies where TICs have been implicated in the pathogenesis of disease. The target profile is the TIC population in colon cancer, ovarian cancer and glioblastoma. The therapeutic compounds that have been developed in the course of the collaboration target a pair of serine-threonine kinases that act at the nexus of mitosis, hypoxia, and DNA repair. These enzymes are over-expressed in many forms of cancer and alterations in their expression patterns correlate with dysregulation of a number of genes that are significantly linked to poor patient outcome.
  • Compounds against the first target have been developed to the point at which a developmental candidate can be selected. The compounds show single digit nanomolar potency in vitro, adequate specificity, appropriate pharmacokinetics to support oral delivery, and the ability to trigger growth inhibition and cell death in a wide panel of tumor cell lines and TICs from the three targeted histologies. Recently completed dose and schedule studies have been used to design and implement tumor model studies. The compound that demonstrates the widest therapeutic index will be selected for IND enabling studies. These IND enabling studies will include synthetic scale-up, toxicity evaluations, combination studies, mechanism of action studies, and a biomarker identification program that will be used to identify a targeted population for optimal clinical trial design.
  • The medicinal chemistry program against the second target was started approximately 15 months after the initiation of the effort against the first target. Sufficient potency, specificity, and activity against tumor cell lines and TICs have been demonstrated with novel molecules. Current efforts are focused on improving the pharmacokinetic properties of the drug candidates.
  • A phospho-flow platform to measure mRNA levels, protein levels, and enzymatic activity using a mass spectrometric readout has also been tested. This system enables the simultaneous measurement of up to 35 different biomolecules. A data management system has been developed to facilitate the associated complex data analysis. Proof or principle experiments have demonstrated that this experimental paradigm can be used to reconstruct the developmental lineages of all progeny downstream of hematopoietic stem cells from human and mouse bone marrow. This approach has recently been applied to the analysis of ovarian cancer cells taken directly from patients. The results of these studies suggest that cancer cells are clearly heterogenous, but perhaps most importantly can be organized into developmental lineages that are formally similar to those seen in bone marrow development. Furthermore, this platform can assess the response of individual subcomponents of the oncological lineage to both approved and experimental drugs. We will be using this platform to gain insight into how tumors respond to individual drugs, including our drug candidates, and combination studies. It is reasonable to expect that it will be possible to not only assess the response of the cancer stem cells, but all subtypes of the tumor lineage.
  • Slamon Mak Cancer Stem Cell Abstract
  • Drug discovery programs against two different mitotic kinases are being pursued. Both programs follow the same general process flow in which lead optimization experiments culminate in the selection of a single small molecule candidate for advancement to preclinical development. The development candidate then proceeds through a standard series of evaluations to establish its suitability for an IND submission and use in subsequent clinical trials.
  • CFI-003 was selected as a clinical development candidate and is progressing through investigational new drug application (IND)-enabling studies. Chemistry activity in the past year has included the selection of the fumarate salt as the final salt form, and production of two kilogram-scale clinical batches, the first of which is scheduled to be released at the end of April. The compound is stable when stored under typical storage conditions, and has an impurity profile that is safe for clinical dosing. In cancer models, CFI-003 was shown to be particularly effective against tumors deficient for the tumor suppressor gene PTEN; this is important given that deficiencies in this gene are generally considered to be an indicator of poor prognosis in the clinic. Experiments are ongoing to determine biomarkers of response to CFI-003 for application in the clinic. Other work includes selection and management of contract research organizations (CROs) for critical IND-enabling studies. For example, Pharmatek has been engaged to assist in the development of a drug formulation that enhances the stability of CFI-003, and maximizes bioavailability of the compound when dosed orally. Other CRO work that is ongoing involves in vitro pharmacology experiments geared toward understanding how CFI-003 might interact with co-administered drugs, and performing key toxicology experiments for determination of a safe and effective clinical dose of the compound. An important milestone was reached in the previous reporting period in that the patent application covering CFI-003 was allowed by the US patent office. The CFI-003 IND development team will continue to move the project forward planning for a successful IND submission toward the end of Q1 2013.
  • The drug discovery efforts in the second program have been focused on improving the pharmacokinetic properties of the lead series molecules while maintaining excellent in vitro activity. Approximately 400 new chemical entities have been synthesized during the last reporting period. Progress to date has been measured by an increase in potency in the biochemical assay and improved anti-proliferative potency in cancer cell growth assays. Activity toward Aurora B has simultaneously been attenuated, and current compounds demonstrate improved selectivity against a diverse panel of kinases. Progress was aided by the acquisition of multiple co-complex x-ray structures which allowed for further refinement of binding models to the target’s active site. Compounds to be qualified for further study must continue to induce an aneuploidy phenotype at least an order of magnitude above the HCT116 (colon adenocarcinoma cell line) GI50, and importantly must also demonstrate adequate plasma levels upon oral dosing. A lead series compound has been shown to have oral efficacy in a cancer model. To follow up this result, additional compounds have been scaled up for testing. Experiments to determine the tolerability have been completed for the latest candidates and further efficacy studies have been initiated. Results from these efficacy studies will aid in the identification of a development candidate for subsequent IND enabling studies.
  • Drug discovery programs against two different mitotic kinases are being pursued. Both programs follow the same general process flow in which lead optimization experiments culminate in the selection of a single small molecule candidate for advancement to preclinical development. The development candidate then proceeds through a standard series of evaluations to establish its suitability for an IND submission and use in subsequent clinical trials.
  • CFI-400945 was selected as a clinical development candidate. The IND-enabling studies included the selection of the fumarate salt as the final salt form, and the production of two kilogram-scale clinical batches, which have been released during the past year. The compound is stable when stored under typical storage conditions, and has an impurity profile that is safe for clinical dosing. In cancer models in mice, CFI-400945 was shown to be particularly effective against specific subsets of tumor cell lines in both tumor cells grown in soft agar and in xenograft models. Experiments are ongoing to determine biomarkers of response to CFI-400945 for application in the clinic. Pharmatek was engaged to assist in the development of a drug formulation that enhanced the stability of CFI-400945, and maximized the bioavailability of the compound when dosed orally. Other CRO work that was completed included in vitro pharmacology experiments geared toward understanding how CFI-400945 might interact with co-administered drugs, and performing key toxicology experiments in animals for determination of a safe and effective clinical dose of the compound. This work culminated in an IND submission in the second quarter of 2013.
  • The drug discovery efforts in the second program has focused on improving the pharmacokinetic properties of the lead series molecules while maintaining excellent in vitro activity. Approximately 400 new chemical entities were synthesized and tested using a battery of biochemical and cell-based assays. Off target activity towards Aurora B has simultaneously been attenuated, and current compounds demonstrate improved selectivity against a diverse panel of kinases. Progress was aided by the acquisition of multiple co-complex x-ray structures which allowed for further refinement of binding models to the target’s active site. Compounds were qualified for in vivo study based on the induction of an aneuploid phenotype at an order of magnitude above the HCT116 (colon adenocarcinoma cell line) GI50, and importantly the demonstration high mouse plasma levels upon oral dosing. Mouse xenograft studies based on a number of tumor cell lines were used to select a short list of compounds. The aggregate data was then used to select a developmental candidate CFI-1870. IND enabling studies have been launched. In parallel, detailed dose and schedule studies are underway along with approaches to identify susceptible tumor subpopulations and associated biomarkers that will eventually support a targeted clinical trial.
  • The Slamon/Mak cancer stem cell drug discovery program funded by CIRM/CSCC has achieved two important milestones in the past year. Our first therapeutic candidate was approved by the FDA and first-in-human dosing of CFI-400945 has taken place as part of the Phase I clinical trial. In our second program we have selected a development candidate that is now in the midst of IND ennabling studies
  • The clinical trial is being carried out at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (Principal Investigator, Dr Philippe Bedard) and UCLA (Principal Investigator, Dr Zev Wainberg). This clinical trial was initiated after a number of milestones were successfully met following the submission of the IND and CTA in 2013. These have included making improvements to the formulation of the CFI-400945 tablets resulting in the successful reduction of the appearance of a degradant that was slowly accumulating in the initial formulation. This enabled the manufacturing of the cGMP tablets for use in the clinic in September 2013. These formulation changes and the Certificates of Analysis of these tablets were submitted to the FDA and permission was granted to begin clinical evaluation. In December 2013, we were awarded the CIRM Disease Team III funding to continue the CFI-400945 program which enabled the planning and initiation of this Phase I clinical evaluation and additional non-clinical studies.
  • In our second program, Pyrazolo-pyrimidines have emerged as the most promising class of 3rd series TTK inhibitors. TTKis with potent in vitro activity, excellent oral exposure in rats and in vivo efficacy were identified. A short list of 5 pyrazolo-pyrimidines was identified as potential third series development candidates. After further characterization it was determined that 4 or 5 compounds met the preponderance of the selection criteria, 2 of which had outstanding PK properties. The TTK inhibitor CFI-402257 had the best balance of efficacy, PK and off-target activities and was selected as the development candidate. IND enabling studies with 402257 have been initiated, and will continue during the no cost extension period of the grant.

CNS Derived Stem Cells for the Treatment of Thoracic and Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01421
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
Brain Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Spinal cord injury is a particularly debilitating form of trauma, in part because there is no current curative treatment. The unmet medical need in patients who have suffered paraplegia or quadriplegia has long been recognized as one that is in need of novel therapeutic approaches. Stem cell-based strategies may offer a broad regenerative platform that may address many aspects of the injury to the spinal cord and create opportunities to intervene long after the initial trauma. Spinal cord injury (SCI) affects a variety of neural cells, such as neurons and oligodendrocytes. The latter produce myelin, an insulating sheath that ensures normal conductivity. Therefore, an approach that offers the replacement and/or restoration of function to damaged cells holds much promise. Research has now shown that cell therapy may be capable of producing more than one effect in the injured spinal cord. The spectrum of benefits derived from this approach explains why this area is now a major research focus not only for SCI, but other neurological diseases as well. Research with central nervous system stem cells derived from the human brain have demonstrated that these cells survive after transplantation, differentiate into neurons and oligodendrocytes, and most importantly improve neurological function in animal models of SCI. One of the first steps prior to testing a potential therapy in humans is to conduct animal experiments in models that reflect the human trauma as closely as possible. Therefore the primary goal of this research is to establish further evidence that the human central nervous system stem cell (HuCNS-SC) is safe when transplanted into the spinal cord, and that it also leads to a better recovery when compared to animals that did not receive transplantation. The research proposed will study the effects of HuCNS-SC cells in the setting of lower SCI (thoracic cord trauma that results in paraplegia) and upper SCI (cervical cord trauma that leads to quadriplegia) in animal models that will allow survival of the human cells. Effectiveness will be tested by measuring neurological function and determining the degree of improvement after transplantation of the human cells. Safety will be tested by closely examining the animals to show that there are no adverse reactions to the transplanted cells. Investigating the effects of human central nervous system stem cells in these animal experiments will enable collection of data necessary to begin human clinical trials. The regenerative therapy potential represented by stem cells for patients with spinal cord injury has captured the imagination of scientists and patients alike. The opportunity to embark on this exciting field of research shows that new approaches are on the horizon and the field of cell therapy for spinal cord injury will be significantly advanced by the results obtained in this research program.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Spinal cord injury (SCI) causes a devastating condition; its effects vary depending on the level and degree of damage to the spinal cord. The trauma usually occurs at younger ages and results in a lifetime of paralysis which becomes associated with other medical complications and creates significant demands on the health care system. SCI is the second leading cause of paralysis in the US and it is currently estimated that there are approximately 1.3 million affected individuals. Although there are no official estimates, it is projected that there are more than 140,000 Californians living with SCI. In addition to the considerable personal burden placed on the individual and family, the economic impact of SCI is highly significant. The estimated costs related to loss of wages and health care for affected patients may be higher than 1.5 billion dollars annually for patients living in California. A therapy that can restore at least some spinal cord function has the potential for a significant improvement not only in the patient’s quality-of-life, but also the shared costs of health care and loss of productive employment. The use of stem cells, and in particular human central nervous system stem cells (HuCNS-SC) , as therapeutics for SCI holds much promise for ailing patients. Most clinical investigations for SCI have focused on developing treatments that are aimed at very early time points after injury and have not been associated with major changes in outcome. This research will focus on developing an approach that will have broader applicability in terms of larger window of treatment after injury and include both upper and lower levels of spinal cord trauma. The development of a novel treatment that can address time points beyond the acute phase of trauma, and include thoracic as well as cervical levels, will more fully address the unmet medical need of the entire spectrum of patients with SCI. The range of potential benefit to patients includes improved sensory, motor, bowel/bladder, and even important reflex, or autonomic, function. A change in any one or combination of these deficits, if only for one or two spinal cord functional levels, could translate into improved quality-of-life for a patient. The results of the research proposed will enable the regulatory approval and execution of clinical trials using hCNS-SCns to treat spinal cord injured patients. This research program will capitalize on the combination of a team of world-class scientists and clinicians in California that together can advance this field of endeavor. The outcome of the proposed studies will help not only those Californians with SCI, but will more globally pave the way for the use of stem cells in a variety of diseases. Additionally, our California-based effort will not only help individuals ailed by this state, but will also ensure that California ranks very highly in terms of SCI therapeutic advances and benefits from jobs created and retained.
Progress Report: 
  • Primary brain tumors are among the most difficult cancers to treat. High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges for several reasons: 1) surgical removal runs the risk of causing permanent neurologic damage and does not eliminate cancer cells that have migrated throughout the brain; 2) most anti-cancer drugs are prevented from entering the brain because of the presence of the blood-brain barrier, which often does not allow enough chemotherapy into the brain to kill the cancer cells; and 3) typically, the amount of chemotherapy that can be given to cancer patients is limited by intolerable or harmful side effects from these agents. If concentrated cancer therapies could be specifically localized to sites of tumor, damage to healthy tissues would be avoided.
  • The long-range goal of this research project is to develop a neural stem cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces a potent, localized anti-tumor effect while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs hold the promise of improved treatment for brain cancers because they have the natural ability to distribute themselves within a tumor, as well as seek out other sites of tumor in the brain. Because they can home to the tumor cells, NSCs may offer a new way to bring more chemotherapy selectively to brain tumor sites. After modifying the NSCs by transferring a therapeutic gene into them, NSCs can serve as vehicles to deliver anti-cancer treatment directly to the primary tumor, as well as potentially to malignant cells that have spread away from the original tumor site. With funding from CIRM, we are studying the ability of NSCs, that carry an activating protein called carboxylesterase (CE) to convert the chemotherapy agent CPT-11 (irinotecan) to its more potent form, SN-38, at sites of tumor in the brain.
  • During the first year of funding we have determined that 1) when administered directly into the brain or into a peripheral vein (intravenous injection) of mice with brain tumors, NSCs will travel to several different subtypes of gliomas; 2) we can engineer the NSCs to consistently produce high levels of more powerful forms of CE: rCE and hCE1m6; 3) glioma cells die when they are exposed to very low (nanomolar) concentrations of SN-38, and 4) although glioma cells survive when exposed to a relatively high concentration of CPT-11 alone, they do die when the same concentration of CPT-11 is administered in combination with either rCE or hCE1m6. These results suggest that the engineered NSCs are expressing relatively high levels of CE enzymes and that the CE enzymes are converting CPT-11 into SN-38. We have also been able to label our NSCs with iron particles, so that we can track their movement in real-time by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and follow their location and distribution in relation to the tumor.
  • All of our data thus far support the original hypothesis that effective, tumor-specific therapy for glioma patients can be developed using NSCs that express rCE or hCE1 and the prodrug CPT-11. During the second year of CIRM funding, we will further analyze our data to make a final determination regarding the best form of CE to develop towards clinical trials, and the best dose range and route of delivery of NSCs to achieve maximal tumor coverage. We will then begin our therapeutic studies and start discussions with the Food and Drug Administration, to define the safety studies necessary to obtain approval for testing this new treatment strategy in patients with brain tumors.
  • High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, have a poor prognosis and remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges: 1) surgery may cause permanent neurologic damage; 2) surgery misses cancer cells that have invaded beyond the edge of the tumor or to other sites in the brain; 3) many, if not most, chemotherapy drugs cannot enter the brain because of the blood-brain barrier; and 4) due to the highly toxic nature of chemotherapy agents the therapeutic window (the difference between the dose that kills the tumor and the dose that causes toxic side effects) is very small, resulting in undesirable side-effects. Therefore, if therapeutic agents could be localized and concentrated selectively to the tumor sites, treatment efficacy may be improved while toxic side effects are minimized.
  • The overarching goal of this project is to develop a human Neural Stem Cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces potent localized anti-tumor effects while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs hold the promise of improved treatment for brain cancers because they have an innate ability to distribute within and around a tumor mass and to seek out tumor cells that have invaded further into surrounding brain tissue. By homing to cancer cells, NSCs offer a way to selectively deliver concentrated chemotherapy to brain tumor sites. We are modifying NSCs to make the protein carboxylesterase (CE), which will convert a systemically administered prodrug, CPT-11 (irinotecan) to an active, potent anti-cancer drug, SN38 at the tumor sites.
  • Our second year of funding was highly productive and informative. We validated key elements of our system, successfully negotiating Go/No Go milestones, yielding substantial progress:
  • (1) We have selected the optimal genetically modified human CE to efficiently convert CPT-11 to SN-38. This CE is being developed for clinical grade use.
  • (2) We have determined the volume of tumor coverage by NSCs injected directly into the brain versus injecting them intravenously. We found that we achieve more tumor coverage with direct injection of the NSCs into the brain, and will focus on developing this approach for initial NSC.CE/CPT-11 clinical trials. However, following intravenous injections we found the NSCs localize prominently at the invasive tumor edges, which may prove therapeutically efficacious as well. Due to the significant clinical and commercial advantages that intravenous administration presents, this approach will also be developed toward patient trials. We have determined the starting NSC dose range for both approaches.
  • (3) We have shown that CPT-11 + CE is1,000 fold more toxic to glioma cells than CPT-11 alone. Importantly, microdialysis studies in our preclinical models have confirmed the conversion of CPT-11 to SN-38 by our CE-secreting NSCs in the brain.
  • (4) We have completed studies labeling our NSCs with iron (Feraheme) nanoparticles, which allows for non-invasive cell tracking by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Safety studies for clinical use of this iron-labeling method were completed and submitted to the FDA, for consideration of use in brain tumor patients enrolled in our current NSC.CD/5-FC recurrent glioma clinical trial. This would be the first-in-human use of Feraheme-labeled stem cells for MRI tracking.
  • Our results to date robustly support the original hypothesis that an effective, glioma-specific therapy can be developed using NSCs that home to tumors and express CE to convert CPT-11 to the potent anti-cancer agent SN-38. Pre-clinical therapeutic efficacy studies to optimize CPT-11 regimens are now in progress.
  • High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, have a poor prognosis and remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges; 1) surgery may cause permanent neurologic damage; 2) surgery misses cancer cells that have invaded beyond the edge of the tumor or disseminated to other sites in the brain; 3) many, if not most, chemotherapy drugs cannot enter the brain because of the blood-brain barrier; and 4) due to the highly toxic nature of chemotherapy agents the therapeutic window (the difference between the dose that kills the tumor and the dose that causes toxic side effects) is very small. Therefore, if therapeutic agents could be concentrated and localized to the tumor sites, treatment efficacy may be improved while toxic side effects are minimized.
  • The overarching goal of this project is to develop a human Neural Stem Cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces potent localized anti-tumor effects while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs hold the promise of improved treatment for brain cancers because they have an innate ability to distribute within and around a tumor mass and to seek out other, secondary and smaller tumor nodules in the brain. By homing to cancer cells, NSCs offer a way to selectively deliver concentrated chemotherapy to brain tumor sites. After modifying NSCs by adding the gene to make the protein carboxylesterase (CE), NSCs deliver CE to convert the drug CPT-11 (irinotecan) to its more potent form, SN-38 at primary and secondary brain tumor sites.
  • The major milestone in our third year of funding was that we completed our pre-IND package and held our pre-IND meeting with the FDA. To this end, we validated the following:
  • (1) NSCs can potentiate the in vivo efficacy of irinotecan (CPT-11) using a low dose (7.5 mg/kg) daily x 5 schedule. Both real time Xenogen and integrated morphometric analysis of immunohistochemically stained sections of tumor were used to determine tumor volumes.
  • (2) In vivo pharmacokinetics demonstrated increased accumulation of SN-38 in tumor over that of tumor interstitium. The concentrations of tumor SN-38 were approximately 3-fold higher in tumor-bearing brain tissue than in corresponding normal tissue supporting the hypothesis that NSCs can direct toxic chemotherapy in a tumor localized manner.
  • (3) Following FDA approval of the incorporation of iron (Feraheme) into NSCs, three patients were treated with FeHe-labeled HB1.F3.CD, the first generation NSCs undergoing clinical trial. There were no adverse effects from the treatment demonstrating relative safety and lack of toxicity of this method.
  • Our results to date robustly support the original hypothesis that an effective, glioma-specific therapy can be developed using NSCs that home to tumors and express CE to convert CPT-11 to SN-38. During the fourth and coming year of CIRM funding, we will conduct experiments to determine the optimal schedule for NSC/CPT-11 therapy and demonstrate the safety and lack of toxicity of the treatment schema in rodents to fulfill requirements for IND submission and clinical trial in humans.
  • High-grade gliomas, the most common primary brain tumors in adults, have a poor prognosis and remain incurable with current therapies. These devastating tumors present significant treatment challenges; 1) surgery may cause permanent neurologic damage; 2) surgery misses cancer cells that have invaded beyond the tumor edge to other sites in the brain; 3) many, if not most, chemotherapy drugs cannot enter the brain because of the blood-brain barrier; and 4) chemotherapy drugs are toxic to normal tissues as well as tumor, causing undesirable side effects. Therefore, if therapeutic agents could be concentrated and localized to the tumor sites, treatment efficacy may improve while side effects are minimized.
  • Our goal is to bring to the clinic a human Neural Stem Cell (NSC)-based treatment strategy that produces potent localized anti-tumor effects while minimizing toxic side effects. NSCs have a natural ability to home to invasive brain tumor cells throughout the brain. NSCs, used as a delivery vehicle, offer a novel way to selectively target chemotherapy to brain tumor sites. NSCs are modified to express a certain enzyme (carboxylesterase; CE), that converts systemically administered prodrug (irinotecan) to a much more potent form (SN-38), that is up to 1000 times more effective at killing brain tumor cells.
  • Milestones reached in our fourth year include:
  • (1) receiving regulatory approval from the NIH/OBA following a public form in September, 2013.
  • (2) determining the dose and timing of NSC and irinotecan administration for optimal therapeutic efficacy in pre-clinical brain tumor models.
  • (3) demonstrating that the CE-expressing NSCs can increase concentrations of the toxic drug SN-38 by > 6-fold compared to giving irinotecan alone. Furthermore, SN-38 concentrations were dose proportional to administered irinotecan concentrations.
  • (4) Safety-toxicity studies required by the FDA for Investigational New Drug (IND) approval were completed. These studies demonstrated no significant toxicities and safety of our NSC treatment protocol in preclinical brain tumor models.
  • Our results to date support our hypothesis that a safe and effective NSC-mediated therapy can be developed for clinical use in patients with high-grade glioma, with potential application to other types of brain tumor and brain tumor metastases. We hope to initiate clinical trials with our CE-expressing NSCs and irinotecan by the end of 2014.

Trop2 dependent and independent mechanisms of self-renewal in human cancer stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06209
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 382 400
Disease Focus: 
Cancer
Prostate Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Progress from our group and others has led to the identification of normal prostate tissue stem cells and the definition of important signaling pathways that regulate their growth and maintenance. Human cancers utilize these same pathways to promote malignancy and drive tumor progression. Our recent studies have uncovered an important regulatory molecule (Trop2) that is expressed on a subset of prostate cancer cells capable of regenerating tumors. Trop2 expression is selected for in advanced disease and predicts poor prognosis for many tumors including prostate, ovarian, pancreatic, breast, gastric and colorectal cancer. We predict that blocking Trop2 and other regulatory signaling pathways will be an effective strategy to prevent disease progression in prostate and other human cancers.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
In 2012 alone in the state of California, an estimated 29,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and almost 3,400 men will die from the disease. The advanced stages of prostate cancer are treated with hormonal therapy which causes significant changes in mood, body weight and composition, impotence and gynecomastia in addition to the pain and suffering from the disease. Our proposed experiments will define new therapeutic targets and combinatorial therapies with the potential to significantly extend life and minimize suffering of men with advanced prostate cancer. Many of the molecules that we are investigating are implicated in a range of tumors, suggesting that our findings may provide benefit to patients suffering from numerous cancers.
Progress Report: 
  • Stem cells are characterized by longevity, self-renewal throughout the lifetime of a tissue or organism and the ability to generate all lineages of a tissue. Pathways involved in stem cell function are commonly dysregulated in cancer. Emerging evidence in leukemias and epithelial cancers suggests that tumors can be maintained by self-renewing cancer stem cells (CSCs), defined functionally by their ability to regenerate tumors. Delineating mechanisms that regulate self-renewal in human CSCs are essential to design new therapeutic strategies to combat cancer.
  • We have developed an in vivo tissue-regeneration model of primary human prostate cancer and identified two distinct populations of CSCs that can self-renew and serially propagate tumors. Both CSC subsets express the transmembrane protein Trop2. We have previously shown that Trop2 is a marker and a new regulator of stem/progenitor activity in the prostate. Trop2 controls self-renewal, proliferation and tissue hyperplasia through two cleavage products—intracellular domain (ICD) and extracellular domain (ECD) generated by regulated intramembrane proteolysis (RIP). RIP of Trop2 is carried out by TACE metalloprotease and gamma-secretase complex.
  • We have also demonstrated that cleaved Trop2 ICD is found in human prostate cancer but not in the cancer-adjacent benign tissue, suggesting a role for Trop2 cleavage in tumorigenesis. Now we are generating antibodies that will block Trop2 cleavage and activation. Blocking Trop2 signaling will be an effective strategy to prevent disease progression not only in the prostate but also in other epithelial cancers.

Prostaglandin pathway regulation of self-renwal in hematopoietic and leukemia stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06036
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 244 455
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. They are serious causes of illness and death, and are particularly devastating in children and the elderly. Despite substantial advances in treatment of leukemia, a significant proportion of cases are unresponsive to current therapy. Since more aggressive chemotherapy regimens provide only marginal improvements in therapeutic efficacy, we have reached a point of diminishing returns using currently available drugs. Thus, there is an urgent need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. To this end, our studies focus on defining the defects that corrupt the normal growth controls on blood stem cells. The proposed studies build on our discovery of a key enzyme with an unexpected causative role in leukemia. We propose to further characterize its function using various proteomic approaches, and employ a cross-species comparative approach to identify additional pathways unique to cancer stem cell function. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. They result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Despite many attempts to improve treatments with new drug combinations, this approach has reached a point of diminishing returns since intensified chemotherapies contribute only marginal improvement in outcome and are associated with increasing toxicity. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Progress Report: 
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term deleterious health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we are identifying and characterizing protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate interaction partners have been identified using proteomic techniques, and are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate that we identified in the comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have exploited this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to define a dataset of genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has further suggested specific cellular processes and transcriptional regulatory factors that distinguish human leukemia stem cells caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. These newly identified factors will be studied using in vitro and in vivo assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. Continued characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.

Dual targeting of tyrosine kinase and BCL6 signaling for leukemia stem cell eradication

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01816-A
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 607 305
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an “proliferation phase” and a “quiescence phase”. The “proliferation phase” is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in “quiescence phase” divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia. We discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings demonstrate that the "quiescence phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "quiescence phase". In this proposal, we test a novel therapeutic concept eradicate leukemia stem cells: We propose that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases (“proliferation”) and BCL6 (“quiescence”) represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemia represents the most frequent malignancy in children and teenagers and is common in adults as well. Over the past four decades, the development of therapeutic options has greatly improved the prognosis of patients with leukemia reaching 5 year disease-free survival rates of ~70% for children and ~45% for adults. Despite its relatively favorable overall prognosis, leukemia remains one of the leading causes of person-years of life lost in the US (362,000 years in 2006; National Center of Health Statistics), which is attributed to the high incidence of leukemia in children. In 2008, the California Cancer Registry expected 3,655 patients with newly diagnosed leukemia and at total of 2,185 death resulting from fatal leukemia. In addition, ~23,300 Californians lived with leukemia in 2008, which highlights that leukemia remains a frequent and life-threatening disease in the State of California despite substantial clinical progress. Here we propose the development of a fundamentally novel treatment approach for leukemia that is directed at leukemia stem cells. While current treatment approaches effectively diminish the bulk of proliferating leukemia cells, they fail to eradicate the rare leukemia stem cells, which give rise to drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. We propose a dual targeting approach which combines targeted therapy of the leukemia-causing oncogene and the newly discovered leukemia stem cell survival factor BCL6. The power of this new therapy approach will be tested in clinical trials to be started in the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an "expansion phase" and a "dormancy phase". The "expansion phase" is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "domancy phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia.
  • Progress during Year 1: During the first year of this project, we discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings during year 1 demonstrate that the "dormancy phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "dormancy phase" .
  • In year 1, we have performed screening procedures to identify novel therapeutic BCL6 inhibitors to eradicate leukemia stem cells: We have found that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases ("expansion phase" ) and BCL6 ("dormancy phase") represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease.
  • Goal for years 2-3: Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.

Dual targeting of tyrosine kinase and BCL6 signaling for leukemia stem cell eradication

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01816-B
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 607 305
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an “proliferation phase” and a “quiescence phase”. The “proliferation phase” is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in “quiescence phase” divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia. We discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings demonstrate that the "quiescence phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "quiescence phase". In this proposal, we test a novel therapeutic concept eradicate leukemia stem cells: We propose that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases (“proliferation”) and BCL6 (“quiescence”) represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemia represents the most frequent malignancy in children and teenagers and is common in adults as well. Over the past four decades, the development of therapeutic options has greatly improved the prognosis of patients with leukemia reaching 5 year disease-free survival rates of ~70% for children and ~45% for adults. Despite its relatively favorable overall prognosis, leukemia remains one of the leading causes of person-years of life lost in the US (362,000 years in 2006; National Center of Health Statistics), which is attributed to the high incidence of leukemia in children. In 2008, the California Cancer Registry expected 3,655 patients with newly diagnosed leukemia and at total of 2,185 death resulting from fatal leukemia. In addition, ~23,300 Californians lived with leukemia in 2008, which highlights that leukemia remains a frequent and life-threatening disease in the State of California despite substantial clinical progress. Here we propose the development of a fundamentally novel treatment approach for leukemia that is directed at leukemia stem cells. While current treatment approaches effectively diminish the bulk of proliferating leukemia cells, they fail to eradicate the rare leukemia stem cells, which give rise to drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. We propose a dual targeting approach which combines targeted therapy of the leukemia-causing oncogene and the newly discovered leukemia stem cell survival factor BCL6. The power of this new therapy approach will be tested in clinical trials to be started in the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • During the past reporting period (months 18-24 of this grant), we have made progress towards all three milestones. Major progress in Milestone 1 was made by identifying 391 compounds in 10 lead classes that will be developed further in a secondary fragment-based screen. While the goal of identifying lead class compounds with BCL6 inhibitory activity has already been met, we propose to run a secondary, fragment-based screen to refine the existing lead compounds and prioritize a small number for cell-based validation in Milestone 2. The success in Milestone 1 was based on computational modeling, HTS of 200,000 compounds and Fragment-based drug discovery (FBDD).
  • For Milestone 2, we have successfully established POC analysis tools for validation of the ability of compounds to bind the BCL6 lateral groove and already produced 300 mg of BCL6-BTB domain protein needed for biochemical binding assays. Progress in Milestone 2 is based on surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) assays. In the coming months, we will use crystallographic fragment screening using a subset of our fragment library in addition to SPR and NMR, since crystallographic fragment screens have been shown to yield complimentary hits. For Milestone 3, we have now set up a reliable method to measure disease-modifying activity of BCL6-inhibitory compounds based on a newly generated knockin BCL6 reporter mouse model, in which transcriptional activation of the endogenous BCL6 promoter drives expression of mCherry. This addresses a main caveat of these measurements was that they were strongly influenced by the copy number of lentivector integrations. The BCL6fl/+-mCherry knockin BCL6 reporter system will provide a stable platform to study BCL6-expressing leukemia cells and effects of BCL6 small molecule inhibitors on survival and proliferation on BCL6-dependent leukemia cell populations. This will be a key requirement to measure disease-modifying activity of inhibitory compounds in large-scale assays in Milestone 3. Other requirements (e.g. leukemia xenografts) are already in place. 

Stem cell-based carriers for RCR vector delivery to glioblastoma

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01791
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 370 607
Disease Focus: 
Brain Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Modified viruses can be used to infect tumor cells and alter the tumor cell to make anti-tumor proteins. Most researchers use virus that can infect and modify the tumor cell it enters, but can not make more of itself to infect additional cells surrounding the original infected cell. This type of virus is called replication-incompetent virus. Use of replication-incompetent virus is considered safe because no additional virus, which potentially could get out of control, is generated inside of the tumor. However such therapies have been shown to have only limited beneficial effects, presumably because too many tumor cells never get infected. Newer approaches investigate the use of replication-competent viruses to achieve highly efficient gene transfer to tumors. A successfully transduced tumor cell itself becomes a virus-producing cell, sustaining further transduction events even after initial administration. We propose here to use a type of replication-competent virus that only infects dividing cells and therefore will infect the rapidly dividing cancer cells but not normal brain cells. The use of replication-competent virus is potentially more risky but is well justified in clinical scenarios involving highly aggressive and rapidly progressing metastatic tumor growth in the brain. To administer therapeutic virus into the brain, the virus is injected right into the center of the tumor. Yet, human brain tumors are often found as diffusely spreading foci in the brain and may be difficult to eliminate by locally-administered replication-competent retrovirus (RCR) vectors alone. In this study we propose to use a type of adult stem cell called a "mesenchymal stem cell" (MSC) as a delivery system for the RCR vectors. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been shown to have natural tumor-homing abilities, and can migrate to tumor foci and penetrate through into the interior of tumor masses. We propose to engineer them into "aircraft carriers" that release tumor-selective viruses, which can then efficiently spread suicide genes from one cancer cell to another in multiple tumor foci in the brain.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
This research is based on a solid foundation that combines two innovative technologies for the treatment of primary brain tumors, particularly glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) the most malignant form of brain tumor, which afflicts men, women, and children in California and elsewhere. Each of these technologies has been approved separately by FDA for clinical testing in humans: human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and replication-competent retrovirus (RCR) vectors. MSCs have been reported to exhibit a natural ability to migrate to solid tumors and penetrate into the tissue mass. Once inside a tumor, RCR vectors can spread selectively in the cancer cells and their replication can keep up with their uncontrolled proliferation, and their ability to integrate themselves into the cancer cell genome allows them to permanently "seed" tumor cells with therapeutic genes. Here we propose to utilize the natural tumor homing ability of MSCs to deliver RCR vectors into brain tumors. This "virus vs. cancer" strategy takes advantage of the amplification process inherent in the spread of virus from cell to cell, and by using MSCs to initiate the virus infection efficiently in brain tumors, represents an approach that will have the potential to effectively treat this poor prognosis disease. If successful, clinical application of this strategy can be implemented by an "off-the-shelf" mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) primary cell lines that have been pre-characterized for their tumor homing ability and virus production capability, and can be offered to patients without requiring an invasive procedure to harvest their own stem cells. Furthermore, this represents a treatment that could potentially be administered through a needle, thus making it unnecessary for patients to undergo major neurosurgical procedures entailing craniotomy at an advanced medical center. Hence this research could lead to a novel treatment approach that would particularly address the needs of brain tumor patients in California who are underserved due to socioeconomic and geographic constraints, as well as the elderly who are poor-risk for surgical interventions.
Progress Report: 
  • The goal of this project is to develop clinically translatable methods for engineering human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) to serve as tumor-homing cellular carriers that will deliver a replication-competent retrovirus (RCR) vector throughout primary brain tumors (gliomas). RCR vectors expressing a prodrug activator (also known as a "suicide gene"), which converts a non-toxic "pro-drug" compound into a potent chemotherapy drug directly generated within the infected tumor cells, have recently initiated testing in Phase I/II clinical trials for suicide gene therapy of recurrent high-grade gliomas. We are examining whether MSCs can serve as producer cells for this RCR vector, and whether the tumor transduction efficiency and therapeutic efficacy of this vector can be significantly enhanced, without compromising its safety profile, hMSC-based RCR producer cells (MSC-RCR) are used as a tumor-homing mobile carrier system that releases the virus as the cells migrate toward and within tumor masses in the brain. In particular, we are comparing this MSC-RCR cell-based carrier method against conventional delivery methods by direct intratumoral injection of 'naked' virus, in subcutaneous and intracranial brain tumor models.
  • To date, we have accomplished our milestone tasks for Year 1, by:
  • - successfully developing efficient methods to transduce hMSCs with RCR vectors and thereby convert them into vector producer cells
  • - developing and comparing in vitro and in vivo assays to evaluate the tumor-homing migratory activity of hMSCs
  • - applying these assays to screen and evaluate commercially available hMSC isolates
  • - demonstrating that the MSC-RCR delivery system can achieve significantly more efficient transduction of subcutaneous glioma models as compared to virus by itself
  • - confirming that enhanced transduction efficiency by MSC-RCR achieves more rapid tumor growth inhibition, as compared to 'naked' RCR alone, when applied to suicide gene therapy in subcutaneous tumor models of human glioma
  • - confirming that hMSC-mediated RCR delivery does not increase vector biodistribution to normal tissues, nor incur any increased risk of secondary leukemogenesis
  • Interestingly, through these studies we have found considerable variability in tumor-homing migration activity and intratumoral migration activity between hMSC isolates from different sources, a finding that may have significant implications for the development of hMSC-based clinical products. We are continuing to characterize additional hMSC isolates from various tissue sources, and are preparing a manuscript to publish these results.
  • Furthermore, based on our favorable results as described above, indicating the enhanced efficiency of tumor transduction and growth inhibitory effects when suicide gene therapy is delivered by MSC-RCR, as compared to RCR alone, we have fulfilled the success criteria for each of our milestone tasks in Year 1, and are currently proceeding with Year 2 studies.
  • Modified viruses can be used to infect tumor cells and alter the tumor cell to make anti-tumor proteins. We have developed a type of replication-competent virus that efficiently infects rapidly dividing cancer cells, but not normal brain cells. This virus is currently being tested clinically in patients with malignant brain tumors. However, to administer therapeutic virus into the brain, the virus is injected right into the center of the tumor, or in around the margins of the cavity after surgical removal of most of the tumor. Yet, human brain tumors are often found as diffusely spreading foci in the brain and may be difficult to eliminate by locally-administered replication-competent retrovirus (RCR) vectors alone. In this project, we propose to use a type of adult stem cell, called a "mesenchymal stem cell" (MSC), as a delivery system for the RCR vectors. Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) have been shown to have natural tumor-homing abilities, and can migrate to tumor foci and penetrate through into the interior of tumor masses.
  • During this project period, we have established and optimized manufacturing methods to engineer hMSCs into "aircraft carriers" that release our tumor-selective RCR vectors, which we then confirmed can efficiently spread a non-therapeutic marker gene to brain tumor cells. We have further confirmed that the use of hMSCs as a cellular delivery system for RCR vectors achieves more rapid spread of the vectors through the tumor mass, as compared to injecting the virus by itself, both in tumor models implanted under the skin as well as implanted in the brain. We have also obtained initial results demonstrating that hMSC delivery of RCR vectors does not result in unwanted spread of virus to normal tissues outside the brain. This stem cell-based RCR vector delivery system, which we have so far tested and validated using a marker gene, in our current studies is now being applied to delivery of a therapeutic anti-tumor 'suicide' gene. We have also initiated discussions with the UC Davis Stem Cell Institute to develop clinical grade manufacturing processes for hMSC-based RCR vector producer cells, and with a San Diego-based biotech partner, Tocagen Inc., toward the initiation of a clinical trial to test this strategy in brain tumor patients in the near future.

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