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Roswell Park launches spinoff to develop cancer therapy

Roswell Park Cancer Institute on Friday launched a spinoff company, Tactiva Therapeutics, to develop an immunotherapy based on work at the cancer center.

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments attack tumors and cancer cells directly but cause damage to healthy tissues. Immunotherapy aims to use the body's natural defenses to viruses and bacteria, the immune system, to fight cancer cells.

"We have an opportunity to develop the next generation of therapies, and we believe this can make a difference in people's lives," said Dr. Kunle Odunsi, one of three co-founders and deputy director of Roswell Park.

Immunotherapy includes a handful of different strategies, such as generally boosting the body’s immune system or training it to attack certain cancer cells.

The promising approach in this case is known as adoptive cell therapy, in which a patient's immune cells are drawn from blood, genetically engineered, multiplied and injected back into the patient to provoke an attack against the cancer. Tactiva uses processes that have not been employed before and in a way that may prove beneficial with such hard-to-treat cancers as those in the lung, ovaries, pancreas and prostate gland, Odunsi said.

In preclinical studies, Roswell Park researchers developed a way to make "helper" CD4 T cells in the immune system also act as "killer" CD8 T cells that can destroy tumor cells, Odunsi said.

"We're making the two main types of immune cells work together in a way that has never been tried before, and which we believe will have long-lasting effects for patients with some of the most persistent, hard-to-treat cancers," he said.

Odunsi, who also serves as executive director of Roswell Park's Center for Immunotherapy, is Tactiva's chief medical officer.

The spinoff will work out of the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. It's projected to create 18 jobs in its first five years.

The small company's other co-founders are its chief scientific officer Dr. Richard Koya, associate director of Roswell Park's Center for Immunotherapy, and its chief executive officer Matthew Colpoys Jr., who has experience in the pharmaceutical and medical technology industries.

Candace Johnson, chief executive officer of the cancer center, characterized Tactiva's immunotherapy as having great potential.

"Years ago, you would go to medical meetings and there was a sense that immunotherapy would never work. Now, it has become such an exciting area of research," she said.

Tactiva plans to start a clinical trial in patients within the next year, officials said.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, speaking at the announcement of the new company, said the opportunity to commercialize ideas will help attract the next scientific leaders to Roswell Park, which receives significant state support, and other institutions in the region.

"Tactiva Therapeutics is a perfect example of how government, business and academia can join forces to accomplish great things, including creating more jobs in Western New York," she said.

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