Joint New Zealand-China funding for CAR T-cell therapy research and development

28 June 2019

The Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) have announced a joint funding initiative to support further research and development of CAR T-cell cancer therapy.

The HRC-NSFC Biomedical Research Fund, equivalent funding matched by both China and New Zealand, is geared towards the long-term improvement of the unique CAR T-cell technology developed between the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health.

Spread over three years, the initiative will see over half a million ($599,494.00) towards the Malaghan Institute’s Freemasons CAR T-cell research programme from the HRC, with an equivalent amount funded through the NSFC to the Institute’s partners at the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health. 

“This initiative aims to strengthen the existing collaboration in biomedical research between China and New Zealand, by focusing on the long-term improvement of CAR T-cell therapy,” says Malaghan Institute Clinical Director Dr Robert Weinkove. “One of the goals of this research is to build on the work developed by Dr Peng Li and his team in Guangzhou with our speciality clinical facilities here in Wellington, to ultimately improve the effectiveness of CAR T-cell technology for patients in the future.”

CAR T-cell stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell. CAR T-cell therapy involves redirecting a patient’s own immune system to both recognise and remove cancer from the body. T-cells are first removed from the patient and modified so they can recognise a cancer. These modified T-cells (CARs) are then returned to the patient where they can attack and destroy cancer cells. The T-cells can act as ‘living drugs’, providing long-term protection against relapse, similar to a vaccine.

The Malaghan Institute is planning to conduct a clinical trial of CAR T-cell therapy in New Zealand this year. The version of CAR T-cell therapy being tested is a ’third generation’ CAR T-cell. With the initial IP developed through the Chinese partners in Guangzhou, this third generation has shown has stronger anti-cancer activity in the laboratory than currently-licensed second generation CAR T-cells, which will hopefully translate to improved patient outcomes once clinically tested.

The results of the upcoming trial will help determine future direction for this collaborative programme between New Zealand and China, with the HRC-NSFC playing a vital role in enabling further basic research to improve upon this ground-breaking technology.