The Innate Killer Summit is the leading, dedicated end-to-end meeting serving as the catalyst to ensure successful clinical and commercial translation of Natural Killer (NK) cell immunotherapies. Leading up to the March 2018 event in San Diego, CA, Akron Biotechnology CEO Claudia Zylberberg, Ph.D. shared some key issues and questions arising in the NK therapy space
Innate Killer Summit: Akron has a fantastic reputation in the cellular therapy space… where does NK cell therapy fit?
Claudia Zylberberg: Natural killer cells have not received as much attention as CAR effectors, although these relatively short-lived cytotoxic cells can offer enormous therapeutic benefits. For Akron, the development of NK cell therapies presents a significant opportunity to incorporate our cGMP ancillary materials, such as IL-2 and non-DMSO cryomedia along this new front in regenerative medicine. Akron is an innovative company that develops, manufactures and markets ancillary materials, novel products and tools under cGMP compliance for tissue, cell and gene therapies. We serve the regenerative medicine industry, from development to bedside.
IKS: Why is NK-cell therapy an area to watch now?
CZ: It truly is one of the more interesting areas to watch. Broadly speaking, the field of immunotherapy has seen explosive growth in the last year, as demonstrated by the approval of two CAR-T therapies as well as various high profile acquisitions, Celgene’s purchase of Juno being the latest. We believe that the industry is primed for further expansion in the years to come. NK cells represent another frontier in the use of living cells to attack cancer, and the progression of several NK therapies through the clinical pipeline will add to the excitement building in the regenerative medicine space.
IKS: What do you think are the major challenges faced by drug developers in NK-cell therapy?
CZ: I would say it starts with the fact that NK cells account for approximately 10% of lymphocytes in peripheral blood, whereas T cells account for 50-70%. When thinking of autologous NK cell therapy, yield of NK cells in leukaphereses collections is highly donor-dependent. By contrast, when thinking of allogeneic NK cell therapy, one challenge is the depletion of T cells in order to prevent graft-versus-host-disease. On the manufacturing side, significant time and effort has been invested in the ex vivo expansion of CAR-T cells to clinical scale, but improving ex vivo NK cell expansion has not been as extensively pursued.
IKS: Where do you see NK-cell therapy going in the next few years?
CZ: It’s difficult to predict what the next breakthrough will be. With CAR-T cells paving the way from a clinical and regulatory standpoint, CAR-NK cells may be on the horizon. On a different note, induction of antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) by a combination of antibodies and NK cells is also promising.
IKS: How do you see NK-cell therapy coming out of the CAR-T shadow?
CZ: Current CAR-T therapies require patients to have a sufficient amounts of T cells to modify. While significant expansion of T cells occurs ex vivo, sourcing the starting materials can be challenging, particularly when a patient is immunosuppressed by a first-line therapy that affects T-cells. NK cells may prove difficult to source for autologous therapies. That being said, they may be more amenable to allogeneic therapy, reducing the need for expensive and laborious patient-specific manufacturing. CAR-T cell therapy is also associated with certain adverse side effects such as cytokine storms and graft vs. host disease. NK cells offer a promising alternative immunotherapy
that may dodge some of the negative impacts of T cells.
IKS: What are you most looking forward to at the Innate Killer Summit 2018?
CZ: Learning more about the advances in the field and how Akron can support the continued development of NK cell therapies, especially as it relates to allogeneic, large-scale manufacturing as well as banking.
IKS: Why should people pop by and see you during the summit?
CZ: We are always looking to meet people in the Innate Killer Community! We are one of the few companies in the market that offers both the manufacturing capacity and breadth of quality systems necessary to bring novel NK cell therapies through the clinical pipeline and to market. We love hearing about our colleagues’ advances and learning about novel research. This allows us to ensure that our materials meet the needs of emerging NK cell therapy companies.
The original interview can be found here. Join Akron at the Innate Killer Summit from March 27-29, 2018 in San Diego, CA.