“Empowering” natural killer (NK) cells to destroy tumors could cut the cost of cell therapies, according to a company developing the technology. Acepodia has started Phase I trials of its lead drug candidate, a cancer treatment based on a new cell therapy platform. Antibody Cell Conjugation (ACC) uses “molecular Velcro” to attach tumor-fighting antibodies to the surface of proprietary NK cells.

The company claims the technology can create “off-the-shelf” cancer treatments with the potential to treat both solid-tumor and hematologic cancers, while costing less to manufacture than today’s CAR-T therapies.

“Our NK cells are manufactured in a GMP facility and our product is cryopreserved to be shipped to patients when needed,” explains Sonny Hsiao, PhD, Acepodia founder and CEO.

Unlike current CAR-T therapies, Acepodia doesn’t genetically engineer patient cells to express cancer-fighting antibodies. Instead, the company uses a proprietary line of NK cells selected for their potency. These cells have their killer cell Ig-like (KIR) receptors selected to work with a variety of patients, and express receptor profiles that they believe make for more potent effector cells. ACC is used to attach tumor-fighting or other antibodies to the surface receptors of the NK cells.

According to Hsiao, the ACC technology is inspired by nature. “If you take normal NK cells, they carry around 1,000 antibodies to fight. We amplify what they are built to do already,” he explains, adding that ACC can attach 100,000 antibodies to NK cells, which “supercharges” them to destroy tumors.

Action (MOA) for Acepodia's ACC technology
Mechanism of Action (MOA) for Acepodia’s ACC technology. [Acepodia]
“Our approach is much safer than genetic engineering,” says Hsiao. “Because we don’t change the genome of the cells so there’s no possibility of mutation.”

In addition, he continues, “supercharging” the NK cells helps them to overcome the low pH and oxygen levels inside solid tumors. These conditions have been proven to be barriers to current-day CAR-T technology. The NK cells can also activate the patient’s own immune system to ramp up its cancer-fighting response.

The company is currently testing its lead product, ACE1702, in clinics in Virginia and Texas. Hsiao says they are implementing off-the-shelf logistics with the trials. “Our patients won’t have to wait for shipments, because the drug will already be at the hospital,” he points out.

According to Hsiao, a first patient has been treated with none of the safety issues often associated with T-cell therapy, such as cytokine release syndrome or graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD).

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