The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital develops safe and effective vaccines and immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases. The center is developing an immunotherapy drug combination for mesothelioma and working toward testing it in clinical trials.
The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) was founded in 2009 to accelerate research into cost-effective therapies to prevent and cure cancer, infectious diseases and immune-related diseases.
VIC’s overarching goal is to reduce costs and shorten the time it takes to develop a drug in a laboratory and bring it to the marketplace.
Since its inception, VIC has developed seven new drugs, and four of them are ready for testing in clinical trials.
Among these drugs are two immunotherapies, known as AMD3100 (plerixafor) and VIC-008, used in combination to treat mesothelioma. Preliminary research in mice showed the drug combination can shrink tumors and improve life expectancy.
VIC collaborates with medical, scientific and business partners to move therapies into the marketplace.
VIC uses innovative project management techniques to cut down on the time and costs required to develop new immunotherapies. The team at VIC focuses on streamlined project execution, meeting regulatory standards and partnering with experts to develop scientific discoveries into effective medicines.
Part of this work involves working with governmental agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and private medical companies to develop and market drugs.
VIC is directed by Dr. Mark Poznansky, who also serves as an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and as a physician of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Poznansky earned his doctoral degree from Cambridge University and his medical degree from the University of Edinburg. He completed his residency at St. Mary’s Hospital and his fellowships at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Poznansky’s exemplary educational background and experience in translational medicine and immune medicine makes him uniquely qualified to direct the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center.
Translational medicine is a growing field that aims to speed up the translation of medical research into approved medical products. The resources required to bring medicines and other medical products to market make it difficult for researchers and companies to produce affordable products.
VIC utilizes translational medicine and a multidisciplinary approach to create affordable therapies for cancer patients and people with immune-related diseases.
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VIC has been developing an immunotherapy combination for mesothelioma thanks to a grant from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), which was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1992 to promote biomedical research that benefits the military and the American public.
Approximately 30 percent of mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by veterans. The CDMRP funded VIC’s mesothelioma research because the cancer disproportionally affects veterans as a result of the U.S. armed forces using asbestos products throughout every branch of the military.
VIC’s immunotherapy combination for mesothelioma involves AMD3100 and VIC-008.
AMD3100 is an immune system stimulant that mobilizes stem cells into the bloodstream. In 2008, it was approved by the FDA to treat Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
VIC-008 is an immune system stimulating protein that targets mesothelin, a biomarker that is over-expressed in mesothelioma.
“One [AMD3100] opens the gate to the immune system, breaks the barrier against immunity the tumor deploys. Then the other [VIC-008] activates the troops to go in and kill the tumor cells,” said Poznansky.
The drug combination has only been tested in mice with mesothelioma, but it significantly reduced tumor size and more than doubled survival time. VIC is working on developing human clinical trials for the drug combination in mesothelioma patients.
“We’ve worked on a lot of combinations that just don’t work, but science is about persistence and new ideas, getting back up when things fail,” Poznansky said. “We deal with failure. But this new combination immunotherapy is promising.”
In addition to researching immunotherapies for mesothelioma, VIC is involved in a variety of other research projects for ovarian cancer, type I diabetes and vaccination.
Adjuvant therapies that improve effectiveness of vaccines
Vaccines for infectious diseases such as the flu
Immunotherapies for ovarian cancer
Therapies for people with type I diabetes
Development of personalized vaccines
Research to speed wound healing
VIC receives funding and financial support from public and private sectors, including private philanthropy from families who believe immunotherapy will play a pivotal role in the future of disease control.
Governmental organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense, have awarded funding to VIC. Private foundations, such as the Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer and the Trinity Foundation, have also provided financial support.
Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators. Read More