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MSD teams up with Harvard University to discover novel immune system pathways to fight cancer

Published on 13/08/19 at 11:30am

A new partnership between MSD and Harvard University hopes to combine the expertise of both parties to carve a path forward in the identification of new treatment pathways to treat cancer with immune-oncology therapies.

The collaboration will run for up to four years, supplying the necessary funding for efforts to uncover novel targets within the immune system for future cancer treatments.

The team will be led by Dr Arlene Sharpe, George Fabyan Professor of Comparative Pathology and chair of the HMS Department of Immunology. Dr Sharpe is distinguished within the immunology space, having been recognised with a number of awards including the 2017 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize for her contributions to the discovery of the PD-1 pathway.

As part of the partnership, Merck will be able to claim exclusive development rights to any potential products arising through this collaborative research.

“This collaborative project aims to discover and validate novel regulators of immune responses. Immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors have revolutionised the treatment of cancer, but my lab is deeply interested in understanding why some patients do not respond or develop resistance to those interventions,” remarked Dr Sharpe. “My hope is that by defining mechanisms that inhibit immune responses to tumours, we will identify very important druggable targets and new approaches to improve cancer immunotherapy.”

Isaac Kohlberg, Harvard’s Chief Technology Development Officer and Senior Associate Provost, also commented: “Crucial insights into patient responses and outcomes may be gained through the study of fundamental biological mechanisms. The complexity and promise of immuno-oncology presents a prime opportunity for Harvard’s top scientists to advance discovery through an academic-industry collaboration. Through this project, the Sharpe Lab is setting its sight on innovations that may contribute to dramatic improvements in patient care.”

Matt Fellows

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