Alicja Copik is a cancer researcher at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at the College of Medicine.

UCF-Developed Cancer-Fighting Nanoparticle Heads to Clinical Trials

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

A cell-based cancer immunotherapy that utilizes a nanoparticle developed at UCF to stimulate a patient’s natural cancer-killing cells has just received the green light to proceed directly into a Phase II clinical trial.

College of Medicine Associate Professor Alicja Copik and her team developed the technique in 2016 and then co-founded the company CytoSen to take the concept to market. In 2019, the company was acquired by Netherlands-based bio-pharmaceutical firm Kiadis Pharma, which saw the potential to develop new treatment options for cancer patients.

Today, Kiadis Pharma, announced it received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start its NK-REALM Phase II clinical trial. It had submitted the request to develop K-NK002, as an adjunctive therapy to use with people receiving hematopoietic stem cell transplantation to fight blood cancers. The goal would be to add it to the standard care delivered to these patients to reduce the rate in which the cancers come back.

“It takes years to make a discovery that doesn’t get a lot of attention at the time, but later it can make a huge difference,” Copik says. “I’m so happy to see this moving forward with hopes it will soon make a positive impact on cancer patients. That’s what it is all about, giving patients a fighting chance of cancer survival.”

Copik, a native of Poland, arrived in the United States 22 years ago. After completing her doctorate and post-doctoral fellowships, she began studying natural killer cells and then moved to UCF.

Natural killer (NK) cells are part of the body’s defense system and act as an army to protect us from invaders such as viruses and infections. Copik discovered a way to make NK cells even more powerful – by stimulating them with nanoparticles that multiply them and heighten their killing ability.

Kiadis Pharma’s study will evaluate K-NK002 produced using Kiadis’ proprietary PM21 technology platform licensed from UCF. This technology enables high dose, low cost, scalable and industrial production of NK-cell therapy without the risk of residual tumor cells in the final product. This is the first human trial using drugs produced with Kiadis’ PM21 technology, according to the company’s press release. The study will enroll 64 patients at leading transplant centers in the U.S.

“This is a great example of successful technology transfer of academic science to commercialization for the benefit of patients,” says Svetlana Shtrom, director of UCF’s Technology Transfer Office. “Researchers make discoveries. We protect this valuable intellectual property. They either spin out a company and take it to market or we license the innovation to a commercial partner who can take it to market, to where it is needed to make a difference. That’s the powerful role of universities working in partnership with businesses. That’s how the technology-transfer ecosystem works to benefit our communities.”

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