Research program by cancer treatment pioneer coming to Sydney

Leading CAR-T cancer treatment expert, Dr Patrick Schlegel, has been welcomed to Westmead as part of a multi-party partnership between the University of Sydney, the Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI) and Sydney Children's Hospitals Network (SCHN).

Dr Schlegel, from Tübingen, German, is set to lead a new research program on CAR-T cell immunotherapy announced today, which is aimed at bringing novel treatments to patients suffering from a wide range of malignancies.

This program is part of an agreement between The University of Sydney, CMRI and biopharmaceutical company, Biosceptre (BCIQ) - who are developing anti-cancer therapies, in particular targeted therapeutics and immune-oncology products targeting most types of cancers.

Recruited by The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, Dr Schlegel will have appointments at CMRI, the Cancer Centre for Children at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and as a Professor of The University of Sydney.

Chief Executive of SCHN, Cathryn Cox said the appointment of Dr Schlegel was an exciting opportunity for accelerating research that also highlights the strength of the partnerships across the Westmead precinct.

“This is about leveraging existing strengths in research for the paediatric (and adult) patient population, accelerating development of new expertise, and importantly, advanced manufacturing capability to improve access to care options," Cathryn said.

"Through SCHN’s existing pilot-scale GMP-standard Cell and Gene Therapy Facility and the NSW Government’s planned Viral Vector Manufacturing Facility, at Westmead, the centre will produce novel CAR-T therapies at clinical grade. It’s creating the jobs of the future that will produce new treatments to benefit children across Australia and worldwide.”

Dr Schlegel has pioneered the use of the CAR-T technology with a novel targeting system that has the potential to treat a broad range of cancers and will develop this technology further in his laboratory in Australia. T-cells are modified to produce structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface that can recognise and attack cancers, providing treatment for cancer patients.

Under the contract between the University of Sydney and Biosceptre, the laboratory for the research program will be based at CMRI within the Westmead health, research and education precinct.

"We are building a very strong research program in immunotherapy, and Professor Schlegel's work will be a crucial part of this”, said Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

“The University of Sydney will also facilitate Professor Schlegel’s role in training and developing a highly skilled workforce to meet escalating clinical demand in this field.”

CMRI’s Executive Director, Professor Roger Reddel, said: “We are delighted that Dr Schlegel has chosen the Westmead Health Precinct as the best environment for his CAR-T research program, which is complementary to the gene therapy and cancer research programs already at CMRI and with research partners in the Precinct. The agreement with Biosceptre in partnership with University of Sydney and Children's Hospital Westmead is an important component of CMRI's strategy to make new therapies developed in the laboratory available to patients faster.”

CEO of Biosceptre, Mr Gavin Currie said: “We are delighted to enter into this agreement with University of Sydney and the CMRI. The clustering of leading cancer research programs at CMRI, access to key research facilities and manufacturing capability, and a state-of-the-art children’s hospital on-site to support translation to care, Australia’s largest paediatric hospital network, and potential for collaborations in CAR-T research across the University of Sydney and its teaching hospitals were major attractors for this partnership.”

"The Biosceptre program originated with unique discoveries made in Australia by our founder Julian Barden, beginning at The University of Sydney. We are delighted to have Professor Schlegel’s expertise in CAR-T research applied to the clinical translation of that science here in Australia, and look forward to advancing to the clinical trial stage," said Mr Currie.

“Professor Schlegel’s research group will harness the power of the body’s immune system to develop new, more effective, and less toxic treatments for children with cancer,” said Dr Luciano Dalla Pozza, Head of the Cancer Centre for Children at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. “He is at the forefront of immunotherapy research – he and his team will substantially enhance the research opportunities and range of therapies that we can offer to our young patients in Australia – so we can better help children suffering from cancer and other diseases.”