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Safer cancer treatment

Mclellan Nakatani banner

Safer cancer treatment


A new technique with the potential to make modern cancer treatments safer has won the 2017 Otago Innovation Ltd Proof of Concept competition.

Microbiology and Immunology’s Associate Professor Alex McLellan and Dr Yoshio Nakatani’s ground-breaking proposal addresses the sometimes lethal “cytokine storm” which occurs in some patients undergoing immunotherapy.

“Immunotherapy has a very bright future, but some trials have been stopped due to fatalities caused by over-stimulation of the immune system,” McLellan explains.

He says their proposal – a collaboration that came about after a “stairwell conversation” – will make this safer and has the potential to make a significant difference to cancer treatment worldwide.

McLellan, whose research skills are in immunotherapy, came up with the simple idea that forms the basis of their invention, but he could not initially tell if it was feasible. Nakatani, who is an expert in protein structure, was fascinated by the design, checked the structures and confirmed that the idea was feasible.

The annual Proof Of Concept contest is now in its 11th year with the aim of encouraging researchers to consider the commercial potential of their work. The $60,000 first prize is awarded to help progress the winning concept to market.

McLellan and Nakatani say they feel privileged to have been chosen as this year’s winner.

“With one third of us likely to develop cancer, the invention could have a wide utility,” McLellan says. “This award signals that experts in commercialisation also see the idea as a valuable commodity and one that is likely to succeed.”

Photo: Graham Warman