AbbVie paving the way to developing a cancer vaccine

Published on June 5, 2018

Montreal, June 5, 2018 – The Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of the Université de Montréal is proud to announce that it has received funding support from AbbVie, a global research development-driven biopharmaceutical company, which will allow Dr. Claude Perreault, Principal Investigator working in IRIC’s Immunobiology research unit and hematologist at Hopîtal Maisonneuve-Rosemont, to continue his work on acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The work carried out by the Perreault lab paves the way for developing a vaccine against AML and other types of cancer.

Acute myeloid leukemia: one of the most malignant forms of cancer

Acute myeloid leukemia is one of the most malignant types of cancer. In fact, because of how quickly the disease evolves, life expectancy following diagnosis is a matter of weeks. Although AML is complex, the impact and effectiveness of a potential treatment to counter it are quickly noticeable, particularly through the daily quantification of the number of cancer cells.

Immunotherapy to fight cancer

Dr. Claude Perreault’s team focuses on immunotherapy to better fight cancer, particularly by using the immune system to kill cancer cells.

In all types of cancers, the spontaneous reaction of the immune system, meaning the presence of immune cells in the tumor, provides a way to predict patients’ survival. Administering “non-specific” stimulants allows tumors to shrink (partially or totally). It should be noted that this type of treatment is more effective than chemotherapy in many cases. It involves immune cells (T lymphocytes) recognizing “foreign” molecules, called “cancer-specific antigens” (CSA), thus enabling them to destroy them. By demystifying the origin of human CSAs and by defining their molecular composition, we can hope to be on the verge of developing therapeutic vaccines against certain types of cancer.

The work done by the Perreault lab to better understand the disease is made possible as a result of the close collaboration with the teams headed by Pierre Thibault (Proteomics and Bioanalytical Mass Spectometry research unit) and Sébastien Lemieux (Functional and Structural Bioinformatics research unit), both of whom are principal investigators at IRIC.

A substantial contribution from AbbVie

Thanks to the generous support from AbbVie, Dr. Perreault’s team was able to begin the experiment on human cancer cells.

“At AbbVie we are committed to improving the lives of people living with cancer. Dr. Perreault is conducting research in a very interesting area called immuno-oncology so it was only fitting that we collaborate with his laboratory to help in the discovery of new tumour targets for AML and other types of cancer,” explains Dr. Thomas Hudson, VP, Head of Oncology Discovery and Early Development, AbbVie.

“We are proud of our partnership with Dr. Perreault and IRICoR. Investing in research in Quebec is a priority for us and we are confident that it will have a profound impact on the way we approach cancer care in the coming years,” states Stéphane Lassignardie, General Manager, AbbVie Canada.

“AbbVie’s contribution is a telling example of the rapprochement between the academic milieu and pharmaceutical research, which has been noticeable over the past few years. We are more equipped than ever to pave the way towards developing a vaccine against certain types of cancer,” points out Dr. Perreault.

The vital support from IRICoR

Dr. Perreault’s work was made possible thanks to the involvement of IRICoR (Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer – Commercialization of Research) which, by ensuring the support of AbbVie and by working to attract other investors, contributes to enabling research to lead to an innovative therapeutic solution.

The potential impact

AbbVie’s commitment and the participation of IRICoR represent an important gage for continuing work on AML and provide for the possibility of developing and establishing a cancer antigen platform.

What’s more, their success would undoubtedly lead to growing interest from companies and investors for the immunotherapy option, which has gained popularity over the past few years.

We should also point out that because therapeutic discoveries and treatments related to AML could potentially be applied to other types of cancer, it can suggest the development of a vaccine that could also short-circuit them.

“The contribution made by AbbVie will help support the mission of the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer and accelerate the development of innovative therapies in the field. The groundbreaking work of Dr. Charles Perreault in this area is undeniable and his contribution deserves to be recognized”, said Gaétan Barrette, Minister of Health and Social Services.