Two Einstein researchers have been awarded a patent for a novel strategy to treat a wide variety of major infectious diseases. By selectively boosting the immune response of the body’s T cells, this strategy may prevent the recurrence of HIV infection in AIDS patients after cessation of antiretroviral treatment. This same technology holds promise for the treatment of other viral infections including those caused by cytomegalovirus and COVID-19. In addition, this strategy can also be used to target cancers such as melanoma and pancreatic cancer.
Harris Goldstein, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and of Microbiology & Immunology, the Charles Michael Chair in Autoimmune Diseases, Director, Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research, and Associate Dean, Scientific Resources, Einstein, and Steven C. Almo, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Biochemistry, Wollowick Family Foundation Chair in Multiple Sclerosis and Immunology, and Director, Einstein Macromolecular Therapeutics Development Facility, also received a 5-year, $4.2 million grant in April from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. This award supports the development of enhanced strategies to enable people living with HIV to stop antiretroviral therapy by heightening the capacity of their immune systems to prevent HIV recurrence.
The technology being developed by Drs. Almo and Goldstein exploits a novel class of engineered proteins that increase the number and potency of T cells specific for particular diseases. By selectively activating only distinct groups of disease-specific T cells, rather than all of T cells, these “synTac” proteins (short for synapse for T-cell activation) should reduce the devastating side effects associated with conventional immunotherapies.
A key asset of the patented synTac proteins is the ease with which they can be modified to target any of the many infectious diseases in which T cells play a role. One of the synTac protein’s arms is designed to selectively “dock” the protein onto the desired disease-relevant T cells, while another arm is tailor-made to activate the targeted T cells by stimulating particular receptors.
A related set of proteins, termed Immuno-STATs, are now being evaluated in a phase 1 clinical trial for treating patients who have advanced head and neck cancers caused by human papillomavirus.