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Collaboration Developing Microbiome Boost to Cancer Immunotherapy

Microscopic image of human intestinal cells cultured with specific gut bacteria

Model of human intestinal cells cultured with specific gut bacteria (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Flickr.

1 Feb. 2023. A biotechnology company creating treatments that work with gut microbes is partnering with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on more effective cancer immunotherapies. Financial and intellectual property terms of the agreement between Federation Bio in South San Francisco and M.D. Anderson in Houston, part of the University of Texas system, are not disclosed.

M.D. Anderson and Federation Bio seek to increase the number of cancer patients who can benefit from treatments that invoke the immune system to attack tumors. While many cancer patients benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapies, many others do not respond or become resistant to these treatments. Researchers at M.D. Anderson have identified the microbiome, communities of bacteria and other microbes in the gut, as a key influence on immune system health.

As a result, the cancer center established its Platform for Innovative Microbiome and Translational Research, or Prime-TR, to better understand the relationship between the gut microbiome and cancer, leading to more effective treatments, including immunotherapies. In earlier work, researchers found fecal microbial transplants from people who do respond to immunotherapies could improve outcomes for people resistant to these treatments. However, says M.D. Anderson, fecal transplants are not often a practical solution, nor can they be scaled-up to serve large numbers of patients.

Work in the gut to promote immune responses

Federation Bio is developing long-acting synthetic microbial therapies that interact with microbial collections in the gut to influence performance of the immune system. The company compiled a library of bacterial strains from healthy human donors that are the basis of engineered microbial treatments working in the gut to promote immune system responses to specific disease targets. In Dec. 2022, Science & Enterprise reported on the start of a clinical trial testing Federation Bio’s lead product code-named FB-001, an engineered gut microbe treatment for hyperoxaluria, a kidney disorder with no approved cure that can lead to impaired kidney function, often requiring dialysis.

The M.D. Anderson – Federation Bio partnership aims to design a collection of synthetic bacteria, starting with fecal samples from donors shown in a clinical trial to respond to cancer immunotherapies. The team plans to apply Federation Bio’s technology to prepare purified cell lines for construction of a microbial collection reflecting the full complexity of the gut microbiome, and geared to generate desired therapeutic immune responses.

“Federation Bio’s demonstrated ability to engineer complex, synthetic bacterial consortia and produce them at scale offers an exciting avenue to potentially improve cancer immunotherapy responses,” says Jennifer Wargo, director of the Prime-TR program in an M.D. Anderson statement. “Published evidence supports the potential of this approach, and we believe this collaboration will enable us to accelerate the development and evaluation of microbial cell therapies for our patients.”

Emily Drabant Conley, Federation Bio’s CEO, adds that the company’s platform “enables the manufacture of complex, rationally designed microbial consortia at scale through the manufacture of FB-001, and this collaboration enables us to explore its potential in oncology, where there is both high unmet need and evidence supporting the critical role of the microbiome in driving therapeutic response.”

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