ICON project Designer NK: Designer natural killer cells for allogeneic cancer immunotherapy

NK cell attacking a cancer cell.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. Adoptive immunotherapy using engineered immune cells is a groundbreaking innovation in modern cancer therapy. First chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have already been approved for the treatment of advanced B-cell malignancies. However, there are currently still major hurdles that hamper the broad breakthrough of cancer immunotherapy,

On the one hand these hurdles result from the usage of patient specific (autologous) cells. Therefore, the project partners Oslo University Hospital and Fraunhofer IZI aim to develop a new allogeneic (from health donors) natural killer (NK) cell based therapeutic within the ICON project. On the other hand, the currently manual production of cell products is and costly. In the ICON project the department of laboratory automation and biomanufacturing engineering at the Fraunhofer IPA develops technologies to address this bottleneck. By increasing the level of automation, the production capacity will be increased which leads to cheaper therapeutics for a wider range of patients.

In the ICON project, the focus is on technological support for current laboratory processes in the sense of a bridging technology for future fully automated production scenarios. Systems are being developed for inline measurements (cell density) and for handling the liquids and biological process components used in the process. The latter primarily involves the prototypical development of new bioreactors, for example for the genetic modification of cells. All phases from the requirements analysis based on the project partners' example processes through the engineering and programming to the biological evaluation in the department's internal laboratories are covered.