RARE Daily

CureSearch and UK-based LifeArc to Co-Fund Pediatric Brain Cancer Research

May 23, 2024

Rare Daily Staff

The childhood cancer research institute CureSearch and the UK-based medical research charity LifeArc are co-funding a nearly $1.5 million research project to treat pediatric a rare form of childhood brain cancers to train the immune system on the cancer by using a modified herpes virus.

Pediatric high-grade gliomas (pHGGs) are a devastating form of childhood brain cancer. The median survival rate for children with pHGGs is less than 30 percent. Some types remain incurable. Current treatment options often result in significant toxicity and limited efficacy, highlighting the urgent need for innovative therapeutic approaches.

The current CureSearch Acceleration Initiative project led by Gregory Friedman was originally granted the CureSearch AI award in 2022 with additional support from Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research.

The goal of Friedman’s project is to develop a treatment for brain tumors that helps a child’s own immune system directly attack tumor cells while avoiding damage to normal cells in the body to improve outcomes. To achieve this goal, Friedman and his team are combining a cold-sore virus that has been modified to target and kill brain tumor cells, while not injuring normal brain cells, with a unique tumor vaccine designed to increase the immune attack on the tumor.

The novel cancer vaccine, called SNAPvax, will prime the body’s immune system and sustain the effects of the engineered virus. This, in turn, will potentially offer a more effective and less toxic treatment option for children with pHGGs.

Friedman’s team has already been successful in determining the ideal brain tumor proteins to target with the vaccine and are developing a tumor model to specifically test those vaccines. Additionally, they have found that the combination therapy of the cold-sore virus with the novel tumor vaccine is more effective than either therapy alone and that the timing of the therapies is very important.

They have shown that delivering the vaccine prior to the virus is more effective than giving the virus before the vaccine because it excites the immune system to attack the tumor instead of removing the virus, which allows the virus to kill more tumor cells.

Friedman is continuing to study how this combination therapy works together and developing methods to test how well the therapy is working. Additionally, he is working with an industry partner to develop a clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of the combination therapy in children with brain tumors who are in desperate need of new and improved therapies.

“Because promising research projects in children’s cancer often go unfunded, our goal is to fill that gap by ensuring the quick advancement of these promising projects into the clinic where they can help children today,” said Kay Koehler, president and CEO of CureSearch. “LifeArc’s partnership demonstrates confidence in our unique funding model; our preclinical Acceleration Initiative projects have an extraordinary track record of moving into clinical trials, and we believe Dr. Friedman’s work will continue to deliver these impactful results.”

Photo: CureSearch’s Gregory Friedman

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