Cellenkos Funds Research into New Therapies for Lupus, Other Autoimmune Diseases

Janet Stewart, MSc avatar

by Janet Stewart, MSc |

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Cellenkos announced a new collaboration with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to develop cord blood regulatory T-cell (CB TREG) therapeutics for autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders such as lupus.

The company will fund up to $10 million for the CB TREG program over five years.

Led by Simrit Parmar and Varsha Gandhi, both from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the CB TREG program is also supporting projects from researchers at other institutions.

The TREG Program at MD Anderson covers research into the use of CB TREG therapy for several immune system disorders, including lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others. It is intended to expand the CB TREG therapeutic platform to provide a new approach to treating the diseases that stem from chronic inflammation.

The cytotoxic T-cell, a kind of white blood cell that normally destroys infected or abnormal cells, can turn against the body’s own healthy cells in autoimmune disorders and are thought to be part of the cause of these autoimmune diseases, including lupus.

CB TREG is a therapy that uses another kind of T-cell involved in regulating immune responses, called Tregs. Tregs are collected from the blood in umbilical cords that are discarded after a mother gives birth.

Current treatments to control autoimmune disorders rely on the heavy use of steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, and cytokine (signaling molecule) inhibitors. They all lead to suppression of the immune system. This lowers the body’s defenses against infections and may lead to new and different autoimmune diseases than the one being treated. A new approach that uses a patient’s own regulatory T-cells to attack without immune suppression has already shown some promise.

Research at Parmar’s lab has shown that cord blood is rich in regulatory T-cells, and allowing CB TREG to multiply once collected can have clinical benefits. An ongoing pilot trial has shown that transferring CB TREG to a patient from another person is safe.

MD Anderson partnered with the investor Golden Meditech to form Cellenkos, which finances the TREG program. Parmar is Cellenkos’ chief medical officer and has a conflict of interest management plan in place.