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- Pharmaceutical giant Bayer just made an investment through its investment arm Leaps by Bayer in Khloris, a company looking to use stem cell-based vaccines to prevent and treat cancer.
- Khloris is working to see if it’s possible to reintroduce stem cells — cells that aren’t yet specialized — into the body to jump-start the immune system and knock out a person’s cancer, or prevent a particular cancer from occurring in the first place.
- Juergen Eckhardt, who heads up Leaps by Bayer, told Business Insider that the hope is to get the treatment into human trials in 2020.
Bayer is making a bet that an experimental kind of vaccine could one day treat or maybe even prevent cancer.
Leaps by Bayer, the investment arm within the life sciences and pharmaceutical giant that’s focused on finding and funding breakthroughs, just made an investment in Khloris, a company founded in 2017 using technology spun out of Stanford University to explore the use of stem cells as a way to one day treat or prevent cancer. The financial terms of the investment were not disclosed.
Here’s the idea: In healthy bodies, damaged and old cells are cleared out of our body as part of the natural life cycle in the body. But when the immune system can’t recognize these damaged cells, they stick around and keep growing, leading to tumors. If doctors were to inject stem cells — cells that aren’t yet specialized — into the body, the new cells might be able to recognize the cancer, jumpstarting the immune system to knock it out or prevent a particular cancer from occurring in the first place.
Khloris is seeing if it’s possible to do that with induced pluripotent stem cells, which are created through a process that takes a person’s cells (blood, skin) and converts them into stem cells. The premise comes out of work done by Dr. Joe Wu, a professor at Stanford whose background is in cardiology and the cofounder at Khloris. Wu and his team found that in mice, the iPSC vaccines prevented tumor growth in melanoma, breast cancer, and mesothelioma models.
To be sure, the research is still in pre-clinical trials. Juergen Eckhardt, who heads up Leaps by Bayer, told Business Insider that the hope is to get the treatment into human trials in 2020. At that point, the plan is to see how the vaccines work therapeutically in patients who have cancer.
"It really promises to become a universal cancer vaccine," Eckhardt told Business Insider.
Cancer vaccines themselves are not a new concept. Preventatively, Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil could be considered a cancer vaccine, given its protection against certain forms of cancer caused by the sexually transmitted infection. And therapeutically, companies like Gritstone Oncology and Neon Therapeutics are exploring the idea of personalized vaccines that seeks to help amplify the body’s immune system to fight off his or her particular cancer cells.
So far, Leaps by Bayer has backed companies like BlueRock Therapeutics, which is using stem cells to regenerate heart muscle after a heart attack, Casebia Therapeutics, a company developing treatments that use the gene-editing tool CRISPR, and Joyn Bio, the company’s agricultural joint venture with Ginkgo Bioworks.
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