Two researchers from St George’s have won a national prize for their novel plan to use plant engineering to create antibodies for cancer immunotherapy.
Cancer Research UK’s first Innovation Prizes support early-career researchers in identifying and progressing the commercial potential of their research.
Dr Audrey Teh and Dr Laura Ridgely want to use their combined experience in antibody plant manufacturing and oncology to investigate the quality and efficiency of antibodies grown in tobacco plants.
Immunotherapies have been revolutionary in treating cancer but the cost of treatment is extremely high. The researchers hope that their plan could make a real difference in cancer treatment by lowering the cost and improving survival rates.
Dr Teh uses plant engineering to make pharmaceuticals like antibodies and then brings them forward into clinical trials. She works at St George’s Insititute for Infection and Immunity in collaboration with Professor Julian Ma, and will be the principal investigator for the plant engineering side of the project. Dr Laura Ridgely is a post-doctoral researcher working in the field of cancer immunotherapy, bringing immunotherapy treatments from the lab to the clinic. She works with Dr Mark Bodman-Smith, who will be the principal investigator for the immuno-oncology side.
The project also involves Dr Johannes Buyel from Fraunhofer IME in Germany, who will be comparing the costs of making antibodies in plants versus in mammalian cells bioreactors – the current gold standard.
Using plants as micro-factories to create pharmaceuticals – known as biopharming – is becoming more widespread. Plants have low upstream production costs and production can be scaled up very quickly.
Several plant-made pharmaceuticals are currently in clinical use, including ZMapp, a combination of antibodies for treating Ebola and Elylyso, for Gaucher’s disease. However no cancer immunotherapeutics have yet been made in
Dr Teh said: “We are delighted to have been awarded one of the first ever Innovation Prizes and look forward to getting started on our project as quickly as possible!”
More information about the prizes can be found at this link.