Development of exosomes for cancer treatment accelerates in Wales

A new Welsh Government and Industry backed SMART Expertise project part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and called ‘RISE’ was announced today.

ERDF logo for RISE press releaseRISE, a large £1.2 million collaborative project focusing on the development of therapeutic exosomes, brings together world class expertise in clinical exosome therapeutic development (ReNeuron), immuno -characterisation and -purification (Ig Innovations, part of the Abbott group of companies), and Swansea University Medical School’s Reproductive Biology and Gynaecological Cancer group, leaders in advanced therapeutics development.

Exosomes1 are an emerging class of biopharmaceuticals, with the first treatments reaching patients in the next few years. Exosomes are biological nanoparticles released by cells, and containing messages that are shuttled between cells, allowing them to communicate. Therapeutic exosomes have the ability to signal cancer cells to ‘switch off’ their aggressive behaviour rendering them benign.

The development of exosome-based therapeutics is a fast-growing area, with research occurring globally, including at Swansea University. There are only a handful of companies that can produce therapeutic-grade exosomes, and Wales is home to one of them, ReNeuron, which is based in Pencoed. New technologies are also required to test and purify exosomes before they can be used in clinical trials and Ig Innovations in Llandysul are experts in producing such technologies using antibodies.

The RISE team will undertake research to understand what type of cancers exosomes can be used to treat, and how they can be prepared ready for clinical trials. Together, the partners aim to develop a Welsh business eco-system necessary to produce therapeutic exosomes, for the treatment of patients in Wales and globally, and to strengthen the Welsh economy through the growth of this industry. It is estimated the pharmaceutical industry will reach a global value of £223 Billion by 2020, which is four times bigger than the total Welsh economy in 2015.

Professor Steven Conlan, the RISE principle investigator at Swansea University Medical School, said: ‘RISE is a tremendous opportunity to bring together existing strengths in Wales that see the transition of late stage R&D into clinical trials in Wales. The GMP facility being built at ReNeuron and the antibody production facilities at Ig Innovation are both world class, and are able to deliver at the scale needed to move towards clinical trials’.

Commenting on the grant award, Dr Randolph Corteling, Head of Research at ReNeuron, said:

‘We are delighted to have won this new grant under the Welsh Government’s SMARTExpertise scheme.  As a Wales-based business, we are very pleased to be able to work with leading Welsh academic and industry collaborators in order to further progress development of our high-potential exosome therapy platform towards clinical application.’

Commenting on the grant award, Dr Chris Williams, Managing Director of Ig Innovations, said: ‘Ig Innovations Ltd is delighted to be part of this exciting Welsh Government backed RISE collaboration with ReNeuron and Swansea University. Ig Innovations Ltd will bring its world class expertise and long standing experience in antibody development and production to a range of exosome targets selected by the partners. This is a project with both therapeutic and diagnostic potential.’

Professor Conlan is also actively engaged with the Welsh Blood Service which is currently working with a wide range of stakeholders on behalf of the Welsh Government to develop proposals and plans to ensure that Wales is at the forefront, and maximally benefits from, these next generation therapeutics. This includes identifying opportunities to attract further investment in this space along with developing the necessary infrastructure and skilled workforce necessary to research, develop, manufacture and deliver these for the people of Wales.

Cath O’Brien, head of the Welsh Blood Service said: ‘This exciting opportunity will see Wales at the global forefront of delivering the next generation of advanced therapeutics, and the people of Wales will be the first to benefit. We look forward with interest and great anticipation to work by the RISE team coming to fruition.’

1 see ‘Exosomes as Reconfigurable Therapeutic Systems’, Conlan et al, Trends in Molecular Medicine, 2017, for a detailed overview.