Seed4Innovation is a program organized by Fondazione Unimi e University of Milan to accelerate the development of highly innovative research results, to favor the technology transfer of research results potentially exploitable in the industry. Within the Seed4innovation program, project selection goes through three consecutive phases: in a first phase, among all applications, the 40 best ideas are selected, namely those with the highest applicative potential. These 40 projects thus enter a potentiation program. Among them, 30 projects will be then selected to enter a successive mentoring phase. Finally, among the 30 projects, 10 winning projects are identified.
In the 2022 edition, among the 10 winners, there are two IEO projects: iRASP, coordinated by Paul Massa, under the supervision of Pier Giuseppe Pelicci and Saverio Minucci, and TELIO, coordinated by Teresa Manzo and Luigi Nezi.
iRASP is an innovative platform that enables to select directly in vivo, in murine models, novel antibodies targeting human tumor cells, without prior knowledge of the specific target protein expressed by the tumor cells. This approach is defined as “antigen agnostic". Nowadays, indeed, one of the hurdles of immunotherapy is the identification of proper tumor antigens, namely proteins exclusively -or mostly- expressed on tumor cells that guide the antitumor response. iRASP addresses this issue by enabling the isolation of the antibodies on the basis of their ability to recognize tumor cells while interacting in a negligible way with healthy cells. iRASP enabled the identification of an antibody against T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia; this antibody is able to bind tumor cells and has a potent antitumor activity in vivo. iRASP has been applied to other tumor types leading to the identification of several potential candidate antibodies, demonstrating its exploitability for the identification of therapeutic antibodies in virtually any tumor type.
TELIO, instead, represents an innovative approach to potentiate the effect of immunotherapy based on the use of T cells, in which T cells isolated from the patient are genetically modified to potentiate antitumor activity and finally reinfused in the patient. Although this approach proved to be extremely efficient in some hematological tumors, it is poorly effective in solid tumors. One of the problems for the limited activity of T cells-based immunotherapy is the progressive T cells’ loss of efficiency. TELIO exploits some lipids that improve the metabolic state of T cells resulting in their enhanced activity: Thanks to TELIO, T cells are resistant to “hostile” factors in the tumor microenvironment and are thus more effective against different tumor types, both hematologic and solid. Moreover, TELIO can be combined with other protocols, further potentiating cells’ functioning.
Paul Massa and Saverio Minucci for the iRASP project, Teresa Manzo, Luigi Nezi and Silvia Tiberti for the TELIO project, Marzia Fumagalli and Ilaria Capozzo of the IEO technology transfer office –IEO-TT–, which supported researchers in this program, attended the award ceremony.
Congratulations for this achievement to the IEO researchers and IEO-TT team, which will continue to work together in the next phase in which, under the guidance of mentors, will define a development plan towards the market.