Monash scientist’s novel antibody work recognised by NHMRC grant

Dr Remy Robert

A Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researcher has been awarded more than $635,000 by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to progress work on a new type of antibody towards clinical trial.

Dr Remy Robert was awarded an NHMRC Development Grant, over three years, to further research into a unique ‘bispecific’ antibody for cancer immunotherapy.  This antibody is able to block two different targets involved in cancer progression at the same time. The grants were announced yesterday by The Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP.

Also working on the project are the BDI’s Professor Charles Mackay (Chief Investigator B), Associate Professor Irina Caminschi (CIC) and Professor Michael Cowley (CID).

“The NHMRC grants can be a bit of a lottery but I knew the project was really innovative,” Dr Robert said. “It’s such a relief, and exciting, to see it going forward,” he said.

The NHMRC Development Grant scheme supports the commercial development of projects that would result in improved health care, disease prevention or provide health cost savings. Monash University was awarded $2.1million in total under the scheme this year.

Dr Robert said the new type of antibody has been shown to block two important receptors on myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSC), which are found in most solid tumour cancers. MDSC protect cancers from the patient's immune system by inhibiting immune cells, and make tumours resistant to immunotherapy.

“Bispecific antibodies have been around for some time but have never been used like we are doing right now,” he said.

Dr Robert said the scientists had already developed and characterised a human bispecific antibody in vitro and will now test it in preclinical models of various cancers.

“We believe that there is potential to dramatically improve survival in cancer patients when we use this treatment in synergy with current immunotherapies,” Dr Robert said. “This grant will allow us to perform proof of concept experiments which will hopefully lead to a human clinical trial,” he said.

“This grant is really about translation; I have a track record in that and my supervisor Michael Cowley and previous supervisor Charles Mackay have very strong commercial backgrounds.

“Gaining it really was about teamwork – I’ve been lucky enough to have exceptional mentors and amazing students and research assistants without whom it would not have been successful.”

The team already has a commercial partner with a strong track record in clinical trials that is very interested in the antibody, he said.

Dr Robert was one of three Monash University researchers who received an NHMRC Development Grant. The others were Professor Jonathan Baell from the Faculty of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Science ($729,036.50) for his research into a new class of antimalarial agents, and Dr Tuncay Alan ($726,160.40) from the Faculty of Engineering for work on next-generation hand-held nebulisers for aerosol drug delivery.

See the full list of NHMRC Development Grant recipients on the NHRMC media release.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.

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