New cocoons set to make groundbreaking cancer therapy more accessible

A revolutionary cancer treatment will become affordable to more New Zealanders, through a new commercial partnership and the arrival of technology that can manufacture it at low cost.

A new partnership was launched today at the Malaghan Research Institute in Wellington, attended by the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Megan Woods.

Through the formation of new company BioOra, by the Malaghan Institute and Bridgewest Ventures NZ – as part of Callaghan Innovation’s Technology Incubator Programme – the therapy can now be manufactured on a larger scale.

CAR T-cell therapy is a treatment that works by training a patient’s immune cells (T cells) in the laboratory to identify and kill cancer cells when returned to their body.

In partnership with Wellington Zhaotai Therapies, the Malaghan Research institute has been developing and trialling CAR T-cell therapy in New Zealand since 2019, currently in Phase 1 of clinical trials.

Used as a “last resort” for some blood cancers, CAR T-cell therapy currently requires one lab per patient for a month, but new manufacturing technology will see the process scaled up significantly.

Malaghan Institute general manager Mike Zablocki said the partnership is one step closer to achieving their goal of making the therapy the standard of care in New Zealand.

“To manufacture for a few hundred patients a year you would need a massive facility of sterile manufacturing labs, which makes it quite unfeasible to provide it as the standard of care at low cost,” he said.

“But what we’re doing today with BioOra is looking to take that from a laboratory manual process to an automated technological thing that can be done in a small little machine called a cocoon.”

“Everything you do in a lab you can do in the cocoon and you can have several of them in the same room- it takes away the need for massive bricks and mortar facilities, and you can intensify and scale up that work.

“And the more you do that, the cheaper it gets for each patient. “

Two of the Lonza Cocoon platforms would be installed at the Malaghan Institute – one for research and development, and a second for manufacturing scale-up – although this number was expected to increase.

BioOra Director and Bridgewest Ventures NZ general manager John Robson said the automation of CAR T-cell therapy will also transform how it is delivered.

“Global research is focused on extending CAR T-cell therapy to solid cancers, and automation will allow us to bring more innovative therapies to New Zealand.

“Our goal is to make New Zealand a leading provider of CAR T-cell treatments by attracting developers of best-in-class therapies.”

The Malaghan Institute is currently conducting a Phase 1 safety trial for a new CAR T-cell model for relapsed B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and they plan for a new automated manufacturing process later in the year.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said the BioOra partnership would also have lasting benefits for New Zealand’s economy.

“It will grow and develop New Zealand’s biomedical manufacturing capability which will create future opportunities for collaboration with international partners.”

“So this is not just a health and science success story, it is an economic success story.”

The Malaghan Institute is currently conducting a Phase 1 safety trial for a new CAR T-cell model for relapsed B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and they plan for a new automated manufacturing process later in the year.

Philanthropic and Government funding – including through MBIE’s Partnership Scheme – have also been critical in the success of the scheme, says the Institute.

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