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Researchers develop and trial new class of immunotherapy drug to fight cancer

Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body’s natural defence system to attack cancer. Currently, all antibody drugs used for cancer belong to an antibody type called IgG, but this new drug – called MOv18 IgE – is designed as an IgE type antibody.

The reasoning behind the decision to study this drug in the clinic is that the immune system typically reacts differently to IgE antibodies so these types of drugs can potentially stimulate a more effective reaction compared to the IgG drugs.

This IgE antibody was designed and developed by a team of researchers from the School of Basic & Medical Biosciences in collaboration with colleagues in the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences, and has since been put to the test, making it the world’s first clinical trial of this new class of immunotherapy drug.

The Phase 1 clinical trial treated cancer patients with increasing doses of MOv18 IgE. Patients were chosen with tumours that have high levels of folate receptor alpha (the target of this antibody) on their surface – this is commonly seen in ovarian cancer.

The main aim was to establish if an IgE drug can be administered to patients safely. The findings revealed that treatment was well tolerated in almost all patients, with the most common toxicity manifesting as a rash, which is easily managed.

This is a ground-breaking development because MOv18 IgE is the first antibody drug to be tested in oncology that does not belong to the conventional IgG class. We hope this will allow a completely novel mechanism of action. The trial has already suggested our new approach can be safe and may be effective in treating cancer.– Professor James Spicer, trial lead and Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine

This project was developed in collaboration with the Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development, and the MOv18 IgE drug was made by Cancer Research UK’s biotherapeutics development unit.

We’ve spent many years studying this new class of immunotherapy and it’s very exciting that we’ll now be able to see if this works in cancer patients. Based on our previous research we hope that using the IgE antibody will train the immune system to specifically seek out and attack cancer cells in the same way it responds to parasites.– Professor Sophia Karagiannis, chief scientist on the trial and Professor of Translational Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy

The results of this work support the use of IgE as a safe treatment for cancer and provide preliminary evidence for anti-tumour activity of this new class of therapeutics. Further trials are needed to explore just how effective IgE drugs can be.

In this story

James Spicer

James Spicer

Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine

Sophia Karagiannis

Professor of Translational Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy