Power tool for cancer therapy

Maria Groves


Maria Groves, Ph.D

Close to this time last year, we announced a new and innovative academic-industry partnership between MedImmune and Cancer Research UK. This partnership was created to accelerate the development of biotherapeutics for cancer patients. Today, I’m pleased to talk about a key component of this partnership—the opening of the CRUK-MedImmune Alliance Laboratory (CMAL).

This joint laboratory—located in Cambridge—is exciting because we’re bringing together researchers from both of our organizations to collaborate with the goal of discovering and developing biologics to treat and diagnose cancer. But, more specifically, where Cancer Research UK will contribute its cancer biology proficiency, MedImmune offers access to its protein engineering expertise and its vast human antibody phage display (PD) libraries.

Producing human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)—or biotherapeutics—for research and clinical use is inextricably tied to the development of phage display technology. It’s a tool that enables the in vitro selection of mAbs of virtually any specificity, which then facilitates the recombinant production of reagents for use in research and clinical diagnostics as well as new drugs for patients. PD also allows for the comprehensive study of genetics and function of disease targets. This makes it a powerful tool for a deeper understanding of immunological processes and human diseases that include cancer. MedImmune has more than two decades of experience developing PD libraries and technology, with some of the largest libraries in the industry—a total size of 100 billion antibodies.

This is why we believe the CMAL collaboration is such an exciting endeavor in oncology research. It’s true that survival rates for many types of cancer are improving, and this is good news. But, cancer remains a disease of vast complexity, and when you consider that approximately 331,500 people in the UK are diagnosed each year and it is the second most common cause of death in the United States, then it’s clear there is much more to learn and to do.

Application of the PD library technology and protein engineering expertise within CMAL will empower high-throughput screening capabilities, improve the potency of antibodies by up to 100,000 fold, enable the identification of novel drug targets through phenotypic selections, and create a more robust science to deliver oncology therapeutics with different mechanism of action—immunotherapies and antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), for example.

The success of the laboratory will also be dependent on other factors outside of the phage display library, such as designing a drug discovery process that will help us to identify specific potent antibodies with the right mechanism against the disease target, and also accessing CRUK’s network of principal investigators who will have the opportunity to propose novel ideas for oncology therapeutics.

What we have, then, is more than just a platform for antibody generation. Rather, we have a massive intellectual cancer research network and a translational approach using PD technology that puts us on the verge of changing and improving the way we treat cancer.