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Cancer vaccine and adoptive T-cell therapy could benefit patients with advanced ovarian cancer- study

Combining a personalised vaccine with T-cell therapy yielded control of ovarian cancer within three months, scientists have shown

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Combining adoptive T-cell therapy (ACT) with a personalised cancer vaccine could benefit patients with late-stage, drug-resistant ovarian cancer, a Ludwig Cancer Research study has shown.

Researchers led by Ludwig Lausanne’s Sara Bobisse, Alexandre Harari, Lana Kandalaft and director George Coukos analysed responses to the combination therapy of 18 patients with advanced ovarian cancer who had previously participated in a clinical trial evaluating a therapeutic regimen that incorporated the personalised cancer vaccine.

In the current study, patients received an infusion of their own vaccine-primed, circulating immune cells (specifically, T-cells), followed by multiple periodic doses of their personalised vaccines.

The researchers reported that combining the personalised cancer vaccine with T-cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy that makes a patient’s immune cells fight cancer, yielded control of the disease within three months in 12 of 17 patients.

The treatment was also found to be safe and relatively well tolerated.

“This treatment could not eliminate tumours, but it did provide considerable benefit to many of the patients, who had all undergone extensive treatment prior to enrolling in the trial and were in the late stages of the disease,” said Kandalaft.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the UK, with around 7,500 new cases every year.

Like many other malignancies, ovarian cancer has so far proved largely resistant to immunotherapies, most of which harness killer T-cells, which destroy sick and infected cells.

Ovarian cancer cells do, however, express neoantigens, which are randomly mutated proteins that can activate anti-tumour T-cell responses.

Multiple approaches are today being developed at Ludwig Lausanne and elsewhere to target neoantigens for cancer immunotherapy. The personalised dendritic cell vaccine, developed over the past dozen years under the leadership of Kandalaft and Coukos, is one of them.

To make the vaccine, researchers first coax precursor immune cells isolated from patients to turn into dendritic cells, which present cancer antigens to killer T-cells to direct and activate their anti-tumour responses.

These dendritic cells are then expanded in culture and pulsed with an extract of cancer cells from a patient’s tumour that is chemically treated to improve uptake and processing of antigens by the cultured immune cells.

The vaccine is then injected into its corresponding patient’s lymph nodes, the anatomical site where dendritic cells activate anti-tumour T-cells.

In the current study, patients received chemotherapy followed by ACT using vaccine-primed T-cells that were expanded in culture in the presence of stimulatory immune factors. The ACT was followed by several cycles of vaccination.

“We were very happy that we could demonstrate how the combination therapy improved anti-tumour immune responses, and that those changes correlated to patient benefit,” said Ludwig Lausanne’s Bobisse.

“Most notably, we could show that T-cells targeting the neoantigens were reinvigorated by the combination therapy and correlated with positive responses to the therapy.”

Further, DNA sequences encoding neoantigens targeted by the T-cells were found at higher levels in circulating tumour DNA, suggesting they had invited the destruction of tumour cells.

Coukos, the director of the University Hospital of Lausanne Switzerland’s department of oncology, said: “This study illustrates how rational approaches to the design of immunotherapies can help overcome the barriers to immune responses that are erected by a variety of cancers, not least ovarian cancer.

“It has also taught us valuable lessons that we will be sure to apply to improve the efficacy of personalised cancer immunotherapies we’re developing here at Ludwig Lausanne.”

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Start-up raises US4.2m to address disparities in women’s mental health

LunaJoy Health seeks to address the complex needs of high-risk women

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LunaJoy Health co-founders Sipra Laddha, MD and Shama Rathi, MD

The US telehealth start-up LunaJoy Health has raised US$4.2m in funding to address disparities in women’s mental health.

LunaJoy aims to eliminate inequalities in mental health and “redesign” the way women access care.

The platform, which offers mental health therapy, counselling and medication management, is developing care models that cater to underserved populations, providing care that seeks to address the complex needs of high-risk women.

The funding round, supported by Y Combinator, FoundersX Fund, Goodwater Capital, Magic Fund, VentureSouq, Nurture Ventures and NorthSouth Ventures, is hoped to help the company expand its capabilities and close disparities in maternal health care.

“The support from our investors, coupled with the current focus on maternal health improvements through TMaH funding, sets the stage for the change we need to see so badly across the industry,” said Sipra Laddha, co-founder and CEO of LunaJoy Health.

Mental health is a lifetime pursuit, and we want to design a way to engage and support women with a variety of needs and varying degrees of risk.

“By using technology, we can measure and treat symptoms more effectively, delivering a better service model to meet rising demand and a shortage of therapists in the US.”

This financial and strategic support, Laddha said, will help LunaJoy roll out its “novel” integrated care programme, LunaCare, across select communities in need of maternal mental health.

The investment will also facilitate the integration of advanced technology solutions to enhance care coordination and patient monitoring.

Surbhi Sarna, partner at Y Combinator, said: “LunaJoy Health’s mission to bring a new standard to maternal health care for Medicaid mothers aligns perfectly with our goal of supporting scalable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

“We are proud to back such a vital initiative that promises significant impact.”

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New survey to ‘amplify’ marginalised voices in healthcare decision-making

UK charities enter partnership to address gender gap and advocate for inclusive healthcare policies

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The gynaecological health charity Cysters and Endometriosis UK have announced a partnership to amplify women’s voice in healthcare decision-making.

Despite progress in healthcare data collection, there remains a gap in representing the experiences of marginalised groups, particularly for those impacted by conditions and diseases like endometriosis.

Decision-makers in Parliament and the NHS often rely on data and statistics to inform policy and resource allocation. However, these datasets may not accurately reflect the experiences of marginalised communities.

A recent report from Endometriosis UK that gathered data on the experiences of being diagnosed with endometriosis in the UK found that whilst the ethnicity of respondents who identified as ‘white’ was proportionate to the data collected in the Census 2021, the remaining data was not illustrative of the ethnic diversity of the UK, with 15 per cent of respondents choosing not to respond to the ethnicity question.

To address this gap and advocate for inclusive healthcare policies, Cysters and Endometriosis UK are launching a new survey initiative aimed at amplifying the voices of marginalised groups in healthcare decision-making.

“We know that the current statistics are not inclusive of all communities, particularly marginalised groups,” said Neelam Heera-Shergill, founder of Cysters.

“By encouraging those from marginalised communities to share their experiences through this survey, they will be helping us to advocate for the changes that are needed, backed by evidence from their communities.

“In addition to delving into the diagnosis journey for people of colour and the unique barriers they encounter. We aim for this research and findings to pave the way for additional funded research on all menstrual-related conditions affecting people of colour.”

The survey seeks to gather insights into the experiences of marginalised communities, particularly concerning conditions and diseases like endometriosis.

Participants are encouraged to share their experiences openly and honestly, knowing that their responses will contribute to shaping more inclusive healthcare policies.

Sarah Harris, a researcher at Cysters, said: “We urge everyone to participate in this survey and share it far and wide. Together, we can ensure that all voices are considered in the conversation surrounding healthcare policy and resource allocation.”

The survey is anonymous and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. To participate, visit Delayed Diagnosis of Endometriosis Among People of Colour in the UK Survey.

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Menstrual care start-up launches period equity initiative across college campuses

The initiative is hoped to facilitate access to period care and educate students on the use of more sustainable products

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Cherie Hoeger, founder and CEO of Saalt

The US menstrual care start-up Saalt has launched a new initiative aimed at addressing period poverty and environmental sustainability.

The Period Equity Initiative aims to reduce 100 million tampons from the environment while combatting period poverty.

Institutions, including Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, the University of Utah and the University of Nebraska, are already participating in the programme.

One in five female college students in the US have had to decide between buying period products and paying for other basic essentials like food and other bills according to a nationwide survey.

The initiative, a direct response to the demand for more units for student populations, underscores the issue of period poverty, which affects students across America, challenging the misconception that it is solely an “overseas problem”.

Saalt aims to make period care accessible and affordable through the subsidisation of reusable period products, such as cups, discs, and period underwear, to participating universities and their campus affiliates.

The project is hoped to not only facilitate access to period care, but also educate students on the use of more sustainable products, which are designed to be reused rather than discarded.

“Every day we hear from customers about how life-changing Saalt cups are for them,” said Cherie Hoeger, founder and CEO of Saalt.

“Creating period equity and managing the environmental impact created by disposables are pressing matters that demand urgent attention and innovative solutions.

“Through our Period Equity Initiative, we’re taking a proactive approach to tackle these challenges by leveraging our expertise and aligning with universities across America to make a big impact closer to home.”

The Period Equity Initiative, Hoeger added, furthers Saalt’s commitment to making period care more affordable, accessible and sustainable.

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