Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel has licensed to BaxterInternational a method of directing T cells to tumors, under anexclusive licensing and collaborative research agreement.

Baxter announced Friday that its Biotech Group will use theunique immune-cell technology developed by Weizmannresearchers to develop gene-therapy and immunotherapyproducts and systems.

"It represents the beginning of engineering the immunesystem," Bob Goodenow, Baxter's research director of cellulartherapy, told BioWorld.

Initially the technology will be applied in the treatment ofbreast and colon cancer, whose spread appears to be controlledto some extent by the immune system. Under normalconditions, receptors located on the surface of T cells seek outand kill abnormal cells before they grow out of control.However, Goodenow said, some cancer patients apparently donot have adequate immune responses to keep tumors fromspreading.

The technology covered under the agreement is based on thework of Weizmann Institute researcher Zelig Eshhar, whoshowed in cultured mouse and human cell lines that T cellscould be genetically engineered to recognize tumor cells withthe specificity of a monoclonal antibody, resulting in a cellcalled a T body.

T cells are immune system lymphocytes that form in the bonemarrow and develop in the thymus, hence the name T cell.Their major function in the body is to destroy and rejectforeign invaders, including malignant cells.

With the T-body approach, this cytotoxic activity is directed totumor sites after the patient's own T cells are geneticallyengineered and reinfused in a treatment known as autologousex-vivo cellular therapy.

"The Weizmann research demonstrates that the cancer-recognition capability of an antibody can be effectivelytransferred to a T lymphocyte," said Dennis Chenoweth, vicepresident for research at the Baxter's Biotech Group'sImmunotherapy Division. "We are confident that this researchwill produce therapies that will allow clinicians to engineer aspecific immune response to cellular abnormalities found incancer and infectious diseases such as AIDS.

The Weizmann observations also suggest that T lymphocytescan be genetically altered to deliver therapeutic doses of drugsto cells throughout the body, opening the possibility ofdeveloping defective cellular drug-delivery systems."

A separate team of researchers, led by Yosef Yarden, isstudying the molecules that are found on the surface of stemcells, the building blocks of the entire immune system. Baxteralso will support this research to increase the basicunderstanding of human stem cell biology and to expandBaxter's immunotherapy research initiatives.

Baxter has a four-year research and development agreementwith Yeda Research and Development Co., an Israeli companythat holds title to all inventions derived from WeizmannInstitute investigations and could receive future licensing feesand royalties from Baxter.

Together with Baxter's recent licensure of Enzon Inc.'s single-chain antibody technology, the agreement provides Baxter withcore technologies to expand the company's stem cell selectionand bone marrow transplantation programs. The initiative canalso make use of Baxter's blood separation and handlingsystems to collect and process lymphocytes, Goodenow said, asBaxter researchers work to bring basic science developmentsfrom Weizmann to the clinic.

Related immunotherapy investigations at the NationalInstitutes of Health and elsewhere mainly involve stimulatingT-cell activity, he added, without genetically engineeringlymphocytes. The unique technology from Weizmann couldpotentially be applied to infectious disease as well asmetastatic cancer, added Philip Smith, vice president ofcommunications for Baxter.

Baxter has a long-standing relationship with the WeizmannInstitute and has purchased its monoclonal-antibody cell linesfor diagnostic research. Baxter's Biotech Group collaborateswith strategic partners addressing cancer, blood therapy andgenetic disorders.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.