The majority of cancer patients still fail to respond to immunotherapies because the therapeutically targetable tumour characteristics vary from patient to patient. A greater degree of personalization is required to fine-tune immunotherapies to the specific weak points of patient’s tumour. Tumour antigen discovery is therefore a crucial step in personalized medicine approaches to treat cancer.
While therapies that target tumour-specific antigens, or neoantigens, invoke a strong and specific anti-tumour immune response, the first technical challenge is to accurately identify patient-specific neoantigens. There are very few reliable and fast solutions for analyzing neoantigens in the market. An second and often unaddressed challenge is to cut down the need for starting material, the tumour cells obtained from biopsies that are required for reliable analysis.
PeptiCHIP is a novel device that condenses the neoantigen purification steps into a single microfluidics chip, which is capable of analyzing minute quantities of human tumour tissue accurately and efficiently in a matter of minutes. Unlike the previous methods that require as many as 200 million tumour cells for reliable antigen identification, with PeptiCHIP the number of cells needed for analysis is only one thousand.
Precision medicine tool for easy personalization of cancer immunotherapies
The PeptiCHIP device will make the life of a scientist who needs to analyze antigens very easy. Our aim is to provide a kit, which contains the chip, buffers and simple instructions that any health care professional can use – it doesn’t need specialized training. As a result, PeptiCHIP will open up new avenues for personalized and precision medicine and accelerate their use in the clinics.
“I envision that with the help of the chip it will be possible to carry out biopsy analysis in the future without the need for specialized expertise, so that doctors are able to map the patient-specific tumour peptides and as a result, provide the most suitable drugs for each patient. The expectation is to have PeptiCHIP in full use in less than five years”, says Professor and Project Leader Vincenzo Cerullo.
Professor Vincenzo Cerullo’s PeptiCHIP innovation is looking for funding to explore the commercial exploitation of the research project’s findings. During our journey, Cerullo has already received an ERC Proof of Concept grant for the early development of PeptiCHIP. In addition, PeptiCHIP has received support from Business Finland. With the previous financial support, Cerullo’s researcher group has already been able to test the chip using real tumours, human organoids and has demonstrated its compatibility with a small amount of cells in successful proof of concept studies. The clinical trials with PeptiCHIP will take place in the near future, during 2020 or early 2021.
Inspiring collaborators have been pivotal in the preparation of the PeptiCHIP protocol and in the development of the microfluidic chip. Academy Research Fellow Tiina Sikanen from the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki, is an expert in microfluidic technologies and one of the key collaborators for Professor and project leader Vincenzo Cerullo’s research group for the PeptiCHIP project. Another key scientific collaborator is Professor Janne Lehtiö from Karoliniska Institutet, Sweden, an expert in mass spectrometry who has focused on analyzing the peptides processed with the chip.