Innovation award inspires novel science


Chris Del Nagro

What do vectors, vaccines and inspiring cross-functional collaboration have in common? This year, that combination was a winner at the California Science Days Call for Innovation—the first-ever internal award given to an individual scientist at the Mountain View site.

The goal for these ‘call for innovation’ proposals was to give our scientists the opportunity to run with new ideas,” says Hong Jin, Senior Research Fellow at MedImmune. “Simultaneously, we were delighted to see a multitude of innovative science proposals that could benefit our programs and create cross-functional collaboration.”

Scientist II Chris Del Nagro won the inaugural award for his proposal to design a vector to deliver a panel of novel cancer-antigens, and develop reagents to be used for measuring the generation of T cells specific to those cancer antigens. These reagents might also be cross-employed with other immunotherapies.

“In certain types of cancers, patients are missing a crucial element for DNA repair that leads to the generation of common cancer antigens in those cancers,” says Chris. “The idea behind this project is to create a vector that would allow us to develop a vaccine, to exploit those specific mutation generated cancer antigens.”

Mismatch repair deficient cancers (MMR-/-) are primed for immunogenic stimulation, overexpress inflammatory genes and elevated responses to anti-PD1/PD-L1 agents.

“The broad questions I had were: why are MMR-/- subjects more immunogenic and how can we further improve response levels and rates in MMR-/- subjects?” says Chris.

Chris’s inquiries resulted in his winning proposal titled “Frame-shift Peptides (FSP): Developing a Payload for a Future Cancer Vaccine Vector and Developing FSP-specific CD8+ T Cell Staining Agents.”

As innovative as the science behind his proposal is, he used the opportunity to collaborate with other internal groups to fully develop and plan his research strategy. Though the motivation behind the award is to highlight the rigor of individual thinking, his project provided a secondary incentive to coalesce cross-site engagement toward a larger initiative.

That collaboration will continue now—part of the award includes the allocation of internal and external resources—as Chris and a team work to develop his project.

“We’ve already done sequence and peptide target identification, and have initiated reagent generation,” he says. “Within a year, our goal is to have both a vector encoding the novel cancer antigens to put into cells, and to have a panel of cancer-antigen specific T cell identifying reagents to go with it.”