New funding from the Federal Entrepreneurs Programme will boost the company’s R&D efforts

By Leigh Dayton

“It’s good to get new money into Cartherics,” says the Cartherics’ Chief Scientific Officer Richard Boyd. He adds that the AU$120,000 in grant funding is particularly welcome as all Melbourne-based research and development (R&D) groups are managing the hurdles of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The financial support comes in the form of two awards, one from the Innovation Connections Facilitation Grant and the other from the Entrepreneurs Business Evaluation Grant, both offered under the Entrepreneurs Programme and administered by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

According to Boyd, the funding will accelerate work on two research projects. It will also provide important data for regulatory approval of upcoming clinical trials, and has helped analyse Cartherics’ current position in the international immunotherapy R&D sector.

In terms of the research, Cartherics will build on its collaboration with Ron Firestein, head of the Centre for Cancer Research at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

Firestein’s group has developed technology for creating 3-D organoid cultures used to test the effectiveness of engineered anti-cancer immune cells.

“This grant is an exciting opportunity for us to directly contribute to pre-clinical development of novel therapies using the genetically defined cancer organoids that we have developed,” Firestein notes.

The collaboration with Firestein’s group is already contributing to Cartherics’ work with two streams of immune cells: Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cells (CAR-T) and Natural Killer cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (CAR-iNK).

Under the grants, Cartherics Research Fellow Nhu-Y Nguyen will liaise directly with the Firestein laboratory regarding testing of the CAR cells in organoid models. She will also oversee the pre-clinical assessment of these cells.

“The current COVID situation is proving challenging in many ways,” says Nguyen. “This grant funding will enable us to continue to strengthen not only the testing of our novel CAR immunotherapies but also our research collaboration with the Firestein group and the Hudson Institute. I look forward to it!”

Testing results will not only drive the research, they will provide data needed to traverse the complex process of gaining regulatory approval for upcoming clinical trials. Trials are, of course, a key step Cartherics must take if it is to take its treatments for target cancers – primarily ovarian and T-cell lymphoma – to market.

Thanks to the additional Innovation Connections Grant support, Cartherics was able to commission the global healthcare-focused advisory group, Cello Health PLC to conduct a strategic analysis of Cartherics position within the immunotherapy pharmaceutical and research sector.

“The analysis has contributed to Cartherics’ ability to understand more clearly the risks and opportunities in the industry,” says Boyd. “It will definitely help us advance Cartherics’ positioning in the market.”

While the value of the grants, overall, is low compared to most sources of Cartherics’ funding, CEO Alan Trounson noted that it reflects the importance of government engagement in the R&D sector at a difficult time.

“Government recognition of our efforts to deliver effective therapies for the community is always welcome and working together will accelerate these advances in medicine.”