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Basel researchers developing universal cancer therapy

26.01.2021

Researchers from Basel are working on the development of a therapy in which pre-prepared immune cells can be used to treat any form of cancer immediately after diagnosis. A startup now intends to use 30 million US dollars in seed funding to finance the transition towards clinical development.

Researcher and entrepreneur Lucia Mori (img: University of Basel, Oliver Hochstrasser)

Dr. Lucia Mori from the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel is working on the development of a revolutionary cancer therapy. According to a press release issued by the university, this would represent substantial progress even in comparison with personalized immune therapies. While these facilitate high-precision treatment, they also take time. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just reach into the freezer following a cancer diagnosis, and have a ready-made pack of immune cells ready to go? Regardless of the type of cancer?”, Mori states, highlighting the key advantage of her solution.

Together with her colleagues, Mori, who was born in Italy, identified cells in the human immune system that would be able to attack various types of cancer cells as part of her research in Basel – “the best place in the world for immunological research”, she claims. These MR1T cells are able to detect tumors and attack MR1, which is a protein carried by nearly all cancer cells. In the lab, MR1T cells can be customized so that that they can be used to combat a whole host of cancer indications.

“Our aim is to manipulate T cells from healthy donors in such a way that they can target the combinations of MR1 and other characteristic molecules on the surface of cancer cells”, Mori explains in the press release. As these characteristics are often shared by the same cancer types, the relevant therapies could be prepared in advance. For example, this kind of treatment could be used to fight breast, bowel and lung cancers.

The focus is now on transitioning to clinical development. For this, Mori co-founded the start-up Matterhorn Biosciences, which has already raised 30 million US Dollars in seed financing from Versant Ventures.

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