June 7, 2016 – The importance of the body’s immune system in protecting against the creation of cancerous tumors has been known for a long time. But despite the existence of a competent immune system, some individuals develop tumors, in part because tumors have ways to evade destructive immunity or induce immune-suppression.

A major goal of cancer immunotherapy is to generate, induce or augment an anti-tumor immune response. In recent years, studies found that even after a tumor is formed the immune system is able to destroy it.

Dr. Pinchas Tsukerman studied the interaction between cancer cells and the key cells of the immune system that perform surveillance and elimination of tumor cells, called Natural Killer (NK) cells. On the basis of this research, he developed original products that can boost the immune activity to eliminate cancer growths.

Dr. Tsukerman conducted the research as a Ph.D. student at the Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research.

Tumor cells under microscope

Tumor cells under microscope

His discovery, which earned him the prestigious Kaye Innovation Award, was made at the laboratory of Professor Ofer Mandelboim (a 2015 Kaye award winner) in collaboration with the laboratory of Professor Stipan Jonjic from the University of Rijeka in Croatia.

NK cell activity is controlled by a balance of signals delivered by inhibitory and activating NK cell receptors. There are several activating NK cell receptors that recognize various ligands (surface molecules expressed by damaged or transformed cells), including tumor-specific ligands.

“Our products are blocking monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that target and block one of the inhibitory receptors as well as the ligand of the inhibitory receptor. Each of these mAbs is able to induce potent immune responses,” Tsukerman said.

Additionally, these mAbs can act synergistically with existing immunotherapies, such as anti-PD1, anti-PD1L and anti-CTLA4.

“We thus have high hopes for using these novel anti-tumor mAbs to better treat cancer in the future,” said Tsukerman.

The Hebrew University, through its technology transfer company, Yissum, holds patent applications protecting the new method, and it is now in the process of signing an agreement with a company for further development and commercialization.

Tsukerman’s innovation was one of five which earned the Kaye Innovation Award during the 79th annual meeting of The Hebrew University Board of Governors.

Tsukerman previously received the Rector’s Award for excellent students in his first year at Hebrew University, and the Bester Award and the IMRIC award for excellence in cancer research.

The Kaye Awards have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye from the United Kingdom, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff and students of The Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.