LIFT, or GIFT, is an approach to cancer therapy that involves transplantation of suitably aggressive leukocyte or granulocyte immune cells. While cancers have numerous ways to suppress the native immune response, they can be vulnerable to foreign immune cells from a donor. Not all donors, but perhaps a few in a hundred on average will have immune cells capable of rapidly destroying a patient's cancer. In principle this approach should be able to target many different types of cancer, which is exactly what we need to see from the research community: more of broadly applicable approaches, and less of very specific cancer therapies. There are only so many researchers and far too many subtypes of cancer. If we are to see meaningful progress in the decades ahead, it must be through classes of treatment that can effectively tackle many different types of cancer, or even all cancers.
GIFT in its original incarnation performed very well in mice, but movement towards human trials has been painfully slow for all of the standard reasons: the regulatory system doesn't like it when a scientist can't explain the exact mechanisms by which a proposed therapy works; the immune system's interaction with cancer is enormously complex, making it expensive and time-consuming to establish any of the relevant mechanisms; it can take years for researchers to learn the ropes when it comes to starting companies and raising venturing funding; it usually takes years to make all of the connections needed; and so forth. GIFT was presented in one of the early SENS conferences, a decade ago, and that was some years in to the investigation. Nothing moves fast in medical research.
I last mentioned this line of research a good few years ago, and last year noted that it has been so long in the making that other research groups are independently recreating similar findings. Over the past couple of years in which I haven't been paying close attention, however, it seems the company LIfT Biosciences has been established, found its feet, and is moving ahead with development. By the sound of it they've made a number of technical advances needed in order to turn this research into a viable product. Congratulations are due to those involved for treading the long path to pass the first hurdles to commercial development; I look forward to seeing how this turns out in the years ahead.
Early-stage research has shown that cancer cells from a well-known human cancer cell line (HeLa cells) can be killed by human neutrophils (a type of innate immune cell) that have been produced in a laboratory rather than in the body. The research opens up the possibility of being able to give patients access to the kind of exceptional cancer killing abilities that the immune cells of some healthy people naturally have. The work means that LIfT BioSciences, the company behind the work, can now proceed with their mission to create the world's first cell bank of cancer killing immune cells that forms the basis for their potentially curative Leukocyte Infusion Therapy (LIfT).
The work was achieved in partnership with King's College London. Professor Farzin Farzaneh, who is leading the research at King's, commented, "I was initially sceptical about this when LIfT Biosciences approached us. It is something that I don't believe has been done before, and producing these specific cells with cancer killing ability is a notion we had not thought of before. We are excited by these early results and see the potential in LIfT BioSciences' approach for further work". LIfT BioSciences are partnered with King's College London by life sciences cluster organisation, MedCity, after being selected for their 'Collaborate to Innovate' programme.
The breakthrough in the production of cancer-killing immune cells in the laboratory means that LIfT BioSciences's special cells can now potentially be produced in very high volumes without the need for repeated blood donations. LIfT's Prof Zheng Cui discovered over a decade ago that certain individuals naturally have white blood cells with exceptional cancer-killing abilities, which can potentially be transfused into cancer patients. However, until now this was not logistically considered a realistic therapy for the global fight against cancer. Previously, to provide a sufficiently therapeutic volume of these cells would have required the screening of hundreds, or even thousands of donors in order to treat one patient. This new, patent pending invention potentially provides a viable, scalable, and safe method of producing a sufficient number of effective cancer-killing cells for treating cancer patients.
The breakthrough also firmly positions LIfT as a product therapy rather than a medical procedure which means accelerated access to market and patients. Further research to enhance the cancer-killing activity of these neutrophils will confirm the Advanced Therapeutic Medicinal Product (ATMP) status which was awarded to LIfT by the European Medicines Agency earlier this year.