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Hope as Israeli scientists develop tech to identify cancer “hotspots”

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Breakthrough aims to make cancer immunotherapy more accessible

By Samuel Hyde

For those suffering from cancer, immunotherapy has sparked newfound hope. Israeli Prof. Yardena Samuels and her Ph.D. student Dr. Aviyah Peri of the Weizmann Institute of Science, have developed a method to identify cancer “hotspots.” 

Cancer hotspots are physical entities on the cancer cells’ outer membranes that can render the immune systems susceptible to a tumor. The researchers have already used the method to identify a hotspot characteristic of a particularly aggressive form of melanoma in one major subset of patients.

The scientists used algorithms to search through worldwide databases holding information on the genomes of thousands of cancer patients at the first stage. 

They reviewed oncogenes, which is a mutated gene that contributes to the development of cancer, seeking common mutations displayed by all types of human leukocyte antigens (HLA), focusing on melanoma, the major cancers researched by the Samuels group. 

Using this approach, they identified a hotspot that is involved in causing a third of all human cancers.

“Our study suggests that our newly developed platform can lead to ‘off-the-shelf’ immunotherapies in which T cell receptors that recognize cancer hotspots can be prepared in advance, ready to be applied in groups of patients whose tumors have been shown to harbor these hotspots,” says Samuels.

According to the scientists, such therapies would be simpler and less expensive than customizing T cells for each new patient. Another significant benefit of this method is that it employs hotspot neoantigens generated from oncogenes. When a tumor’s oncogene, such as RAS, is active, it is expressed in all tumor cells. 

This means that hotspot immunotherapy is more likely to eradicate the entire tumor rather than only a portion of it, as was the case with treatments that targeted neoantigens found in just some tumor cells.

“Our novel approach may make it possible to apply personalized treatments on a larger scale than today,” Samuels said. “It is ready to be developed for use in hospitals, and it can be applied to a variety of cancers, not only melanoma.” 

The Yeda Research and Development Company, which is the Weizmann Institute’s technology transfer arm, is currently seeking to promote the method’s development for clinical use, through a company that is being established to this end.

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