Simplifying cell therapy

December 2017

Gene-modified cell therapy is evolving as a major new genre of medicine, offering cures to what are currently considered incurable diseases.

Now, an Australian startup called Indee labs is simplifying the process of modifying cells to bring down costs of development and manufacturing and make the therapy available to everyone. Gene-modified cell therapy typically involves modifying the DNA of individual T-cells – an essential part of the immune system – to target tissues such as tumours.

T-cells naturally attack infections within the body but by modifying their genetic code, they can be tailored to target diseases they wouldn’t typically recognise. As the cells stay in the body and reproduce, they can keep fighting long after the initial treatment. The first therapies are beginning to pass the medical approval process and could begin hitting the market before the end of 2017.

The current production method involves directly injecting each cell with a virus that engrains itself in the cell’s DNA. The technique is difficult, expensive and slow preventing widespread adoption of the treatment.

Indee labs has been working with ANFF SA since 2014 to simplify the process. The company has developed a microfluidic device which uses fluid dynamics to force genetic material into a cell without the risks associated with viral vectors. A mixture of T-cells and the desired genes is placed in the microfluidic chip.

The mixture passes through turbulent regions within the device which disrupts the cell’s membrane, allowing the genes to enter. The membrane then heals itself, encasing the new genetic information which modifies or engineers the cell to attack a specified disease.

The technique provides a scalable alternative to direct injection that offers cost benefits and reduces processing times. The device has been shown to efficiently modify cells in vitro or in a petri dish and the technology is under evaluation by publicly-traded companies in the United States.

Indee labs has received approximately A$2M in investment to develop the technology and has been recognised by a number of US and Australian organisations including the White House Cancer Moonshot Taskforce, AFOSR, AusTrade, jobs for NSW and QB3@953 among others.

“I moved to Silicon Valley after receiving our first round of investment thinking Silicon Valley knew how to etch a silicon wafer,” Dr Ryan Pawall, Indee CEO, said. “less than a week later I called Simon instead. Nobody does micro- and nanofabrication quite like Simon Doe and Craig Priest at ANFF SA.”