Masonic Center at U of M Testing New Tech for Enhancing Anti-cancer ‘Killer Cells’

A Phase I study has opened for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma patients.

Jerusalem-based Gamida Cell Ltd., a startup backed by the Swiss pharma giant Novartis, announced last week it is partnering with the U of M center on a Phase I study of how patients with relapsed or refractory CD20+ non-Hodgkin lymphoma or multiple myeloma fare under a regimen of treatment with natural killer (NK) cells whose numbers have been expanded through the use of the new “NAM” technology.

NAM is short for Nicotinamide, a small molecule which Gamida harnesses in its process to expand the supplies and effectiveness of donated NK cells. These cells, when infused into non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma patients, have shown the ability to attack tumors and bolster the body’s natural immune defenses against cancer.

Using NK cells as anti-cancer agents is an idea which been studied for some years, but there have been two major drawbacks so far: an insufficient supply of NK donor cells, and their short lifespan once infused into the patient. This has served to limit their applicability in clinical settings.

Gamida Cell, however, says it is addressing this problem by using NAM to expand the numbers of NK cells 100-fold while also improving their functionality.

The U of M study will be led Dr. Veronika Bachanova, a hematologist/oncologist who specializes in stem cell transplantation in fighting blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. She said in an issued statement that Gamida Cell’s capabilities could open new doors against blood cancers.

“There is significant need for novel therapeutic approaches for refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma, which are aggressive malignancies with limited treatment options,” Bachanova said. “We initiated this Phase I study based on encouraging preclinical data to bring a potential immunotherapeutic treatment approach to patients with these life-threatening cancers.”

The study’s main endpoint is to determine the maximum tolerated dose of NAM-NK Cells. The Masonic Cancer Center is currently recruiting and will enroll about 24 non-Hodgkin lymphoma and/or multiple myeloma patients between the ages of 18 and 70 to undergo the therapy.

Gamida Cell says pre-clinical studies in animals have shown that NK cells produced by its NAM technology displayed “superior in vivo lifespan, proliferation and infiltration into multiple organs including the bone marrow.” Also, it reported, its expanded NK cells produced more CD62L (L-selectin), a “homing receptor” which recruit other immune cells into attacking cancer tumors, thus amplifying their effect.

Gamida Cell has its North American headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In June, it completed a $40 million financing round led by Shavit Capital along with VMS Investment Group and the Israel Biotech Fund. Novartis, an existing investor and major shareholder, also participated. The proceeds were aimed at completing a Phase III clinical of its lead bone marrow transplant platform, called NiCord.