Connecticut Innovations Fuels UConn’s Development of Personalized Ovarian Cancer Therapy

Award-winning physician-scientist Dr. Pramod K. Srivastava, director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center in his lab at UConn Health is developing a novel immunotherapy vaccine for difficult to treat ovarian cancer
Physician-Scientist Dr. Pramod K. Srivastava, director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center in his lab at UConn Health is developing a novel immunotherapy vaccine for difficult to treat ovarian cancer (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health).

Connecticut Innovations (CI) has awarded UConn Health’s Dr. Pramod K. Srivastava, professor of immunology and director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, $500,000 to support his development of a genomic-driven personalized immunotherapy for ovarian cancer.

Funded by the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund (CBIF), the award allows Srivastava to conduct the first ever genomics-driven personalized medicine clinical trial of an immunotherapy to treat ovarian cancer. Although it is first being tested in ovarian cancer, the technology may be applicable to all human cancers.

“UConn is thrilled to see Dr. Srivastava’s latest innovation receive this crucial support from Connecticut Innovations,” said vice president for research, Dr. Jeffrey Seemann. “Dr. Srivastava is a true pioneer in the field of immunology with several inventions and entrepreneurial ventures already to his credit. His work has been an inspiration to academic researchers both at UConn and across the globe, and it is a fine example of how innovative concepts developed by our research faculty are being translated into lifesaving therapies and important new products.”

“Personalized medicine and immunotherapy are sought-after solutions at the leading edge of science and clinical practice,” said Matthew McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. “We look forward to seeing positive results from this project and working with UConn Health as they make strides to identify new lifesaving results for patients.”

A scientist, physician, immunologist, inventor and entrepreneur, Srivastava will complete the already FDA-approved clinical trial over a three-year period and will build an entrepreneurial team to develop a commercialization strategy for this platform technology. The trial will assess the safety and feasibility of the vaccine called OncoImmunome and is being conducted in collaboration with Drs. Ion Mandoiu, associate professor of computer science and engineering (UConn-Storrs), Sahar Al Seesi, assistant professor in residence of computer science and engineering (UConn-Storrs), Susan Tannenbaum, associate professor of hematology/oncology and Molly Brewer, professor of obstetrics/gynecology with a specialization in gynecologic oncology, both at UConn Health.

The most lethal gynecological malignancy, ovarian cancer has no early-screening test and as a result is often discovered at advanced stages.  There are also currently no effective treatments for advanced ovarian cancer, and the disease has a high rate of recurrence. The vaccine Srivastava is developing uses the unique genomic makeup of a female patient’s own ovarian cancer cells to design a personalized, targeted therapy to help her immune system recognize and kill invading cancer cells. Targeting Stage III/IV ovarian cancer patients, the vaccine will address a significant unmet medical need. In 2013, approximately 22,000 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and over 14,000 women died from the disease.

Early support for Srivastava’s therapy was provided by UConn’s SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund competition, which provides seed funding for faculty projects aimed at translating research innovations into products with commercial applications.

CI is the leading source of financing and ongoing support for Connecticut’s innovative, growing companies. By offering flexible financing, strategic guidance, and introductions to valuable partners, CI enables promising businesses to thrive. While CBIF seeks to drive innovation in the biosciences throughout Connecticut by providing focused financial assistance to startups, early stage businesses, non-profits and accredited colleges and universities. CI will make investments from the $200 million fund over the next 10 years in the form of grants, equity investments and loans to speed commercializable bioscience breakthroughs toward the market.

In 2015, Srivastava was admitted into the National Academy of Inventors for his long-standing history as a successful innovator in the area of cancer immunotherapy, including this promising vaccine for difficult-to-treat ovarian cancer. He is the scientific founder of Agenus Inc., a publicly-traded company that develops immunotherapies for cancers and infectious diseases. He serves on the Scientific Advisory Council of the Cancer Research Institute and on the Scientific Advisory Board of several companies.

To learn more about Dr. Pramod Srivastava and the work of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer at UConn Health, visit: http://health.uconn.edu/cancer/.