Novartis, Harvard ally to develop immuno-oncology implants

Novartis headquarters
Preclinical data suggest the biomaterials can create microenvironments in which immune cells learn to target tumors. (Image: Andrew/Flickr)

Novartis has teamed up with Harvard University to develop biomaterial-enabled immuno-oncology therapies. The Swiss pharma sees the collaboration yielding next-generation immunotherapies that use biodegradable implants and injectable systems to trigger long-lasting attacks on tumors.

Striking the collaboration and licensing deal gives Novartis access to biomaterial systems developed at Harvard’s applied sciences school, Wyss Institute and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over the past few years, the research groups have posted a string of papers documenting early-stage studies of biomaterials designed to address the shortcomings of current cancer vaccine approaches. 

One paper discussed injectable cryogel sponges loaded with tumor cells. Upon injection, dendritic cells would interact with the tumor cells, potentially leading to a durable, tumor-specific immune response without the need for substantial manipulation of the cancer cells outside the body. Another, more recent study described the use of polyethyleneimine in a mesoporous silica microrod vaccine to boost antigen immunogenicity.


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The technologies are yet to advance into the clinic but Novartis is encouraged by the preclinical data generated to date, which suggest the biomaterials can create microenvironments in which immune cells learn to target tumors.

“Our collaborators have combined the fields of immuno-oncology and material science to develop novel platforms for delivering immunotherapies to combat cancer,” Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, said in a statement.

Novartis has licensed the technologies for target-specific applications to support its immunotherapy combination plans. Those plans are central to Novartis’ ambition to build on its frontrunner status in the field of cancer cell therapies and establish itself as a long-term leader in the sector. Novartis, like its rivals, is hoovering up scientific advances with the potential to support its ambition.

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