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New partnership to scale up CAR T-cell cancer treatment in New Zealand

23 September 2021

A new partnership to scale up ground-breaking CAR T-cell cancer therapy in New Zealand has been announced today at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, with the arrival of state-of-the-art automated cell therapy manufacturing technology. 

Inserting a cell culture cassette into the Cocoon - credit LONZA

BioOra, a new company formed between the Malaghan Institute and Bridgewest Ventures NZ as part of Callaghan Innovation’s Technology Incubator Programme, will automate the manufacture of this revolutionary immunotherapy with a vision of delivering it at a fraction of current costs.

Malaghan Institute General Manager Mike Zablocki says the partnership is a major milestone in the Institute’s long term plan to help make CAR T-cell therapy a standard of cancer care in New Zealand.

“Bridgewest has extensive commercial pharmaceutical and biological manufacturing experience. It has the depth of capital to invest in the technology and infrastructure needed to scale up the CAR T-cell manufacturing processes that the Malaghan Institute has developed.”

John Robson, General Manager New Zealand of Bridgewest Ventures and Director of BioOra says the automation of CAR T-cell therapy will fundamentally transform how this therapy is delivered.

“Global research is focused on extending CAR T-cell therapy to solid cancers, and automation will allow us to bring more innovative therapies to New Zealand. Our goal is to make New Zealand a leading provider of CAR T-cell treatments by attracting developers of best-in-class therapies to access cost-effective manufacturing at BioOra for CAR T-cell clinical trials or future standard of care therapies.”

CAR T-cell therapy works by redirecting a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) in the laboratory, to directly identify and kill cancer cells when returned to the patient. The Malaghan Institute is conducting a Phase I safety trial of a novel CAR T-cell construct for relapsed and refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and plans to validate a new automated manufacturing process later this year.

Malaghan Institute Clinical Director Dr Robert Weinkove says an automated, closed-system method of manufacturing CAR T-cells, using the LONZA Cocoon® technology, will enable the Malaghan Institute to shorten manufacturing times and increase the number of trial participants. BioOra will provide contract manufacturing services to the Institute for future CAR T-cell clinical trials.

“We are planning a series of CAR T-cell manufacturing and clinical improvements – including automated manufacture – to improve patient experience and widen availability.”

Two LONZA Cocoon® platforms will be installed at the Malaghan Institute, one for research and development funded by donors.

Dr Weinkove says philanthropic and government funding – including through MBIE’s Partnership Scheme – has been critical to the programme. This commercial investment reflects interest in the Institute’s current CAR T-cell therapy for lymphoma, developed in partnership with Wellington Zhaotai Therapies, and the potential of CAR T-cell therapies for other cancers in future.

“We now have an opportunity to scale-up CAR T-cell manufacture, with the goal of improving both affordability and availability of this potentially life-saving therapy in New Zealand.”