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Developing translatable TetraVecta-enabled allogeneic regulatory T cell therapy

   Division of Medical Sciences

  Prof Fadi Issa, Dr Joanna Hester  Friday, December 01, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Commercial partner: Oxford Biomedica (UK) Ltd (OXB)

Pathological immune activation is a hallmark of several diseases from autoimmunity to solid organ transplant rejection. At present the mainstay of treatment for patients remains non-specific immunosuppression with multiple side effects. Adoptive regulatory T cell therapy (Treg ACT) is a novel therapeutic strategy pioneered by our lab in which Treg are isolated and expanded under good manufacturing compliant conditions. At phase 1 we demonstrated that Treg ACT is both safe and feasible in addition to observing encouraging preliminary efficacy signals. We are currently undertaking the world’s largest phase 2 randomised controlled trial of Treg ACT for recipients of living donor kidney transplants.

Consideration of how Treg ACT may be scaled-up to have broad therapeutic applicability is now warranted, given the economic, logistic, and technical barriers inherent in a bespoke autologous therapy. Several such barriers could be overcome by an allogeneic strategy utilising cells from a universal donor. However, unmodified allogeneic cells would be recognised and promptly rejected by the intact recipient immune system, predominantly driven by recognition of foreign human leukocyte antigen class 1 and class 2 molecules. We have successfully knocked out HLA class 1 and class 2 from primary human Treg and have demonstrated equivalent function to autologous Treg in a humanised skin transplant rejection model (McCallion, Hester, & Issa et al. under submission).

Building on our preliminary data, this project broadly aims to develop and evaluate novel lentiviral editing strategies to modulate HLA expression both in isolation or alongside additional functional or phenotypic edits, under the MRC industrial strategy priority topics of advanced therapies, precision medicine, and translational development.

The specific aims of the project are:

1. To compare transduction efficacy of HLA-modulating edits in primary human Treg between platforms (TetraVecta, classical lentiviral transduction, electroporation).

2. To functionally and phenotypically screen candidate HLA-modulation strategies including transcriptomic and proteomic analysis using in-house single cell RNA sequencing facilities.

3. To evaluate ‘off-the-shelf’ Treg cell therapy candidates in well-established humanised models of transplant rejection.

Objectives 1 and 2 will be progressed concurrently during the first 24 months of the studentship, which will also include the 3-month industry placement at OXB. Objective 3 will be performed between months 24 and 36. During the final 12 months, 8 months will be dedicated to completion experiments and 4 months will be ringfenced for write-up and viva. The project is therefore feasible within the iCASE studentship timescale.

The successful applicant will have the exciting and unique opportunity to work with Oxford Biomedica (OXB) and the Translational Research and Immunology Group (TRIG) at the University of Oxford. OXB is a leading cell therapy and synthetic biology company owning the proprietary TetraVecta fourth-generation lentiviral transduction platform who, in partnership with Novartis, brought one of the first autologous cell therapy products to market (Kymriah). TRIG has over 20 years of experience in preclinical and clinical evaluation of regulatory cell therapies. This iCASE studentship represents an exciting and mutually beneficial opportunity for OXB and TRIG to combine expertise and develop candidate allogeneic regulatory T cell therapeutic strategies.

How to apply

Before applying for these positions we recommend you contact the lead supervisors for informal discussions.

To make a formal application, please complete the University’s online application form for the DPhil in Surgical Sciences (please follow this link to the course website for further information on entry requirements and the application process itself). 

Please indicate the iCASE project clearly by inserting ‘iCASE’ before the project title and by using the reference code iCASE. You will need to provide a CV outlining your academic achievements and relevant experience, and a personal statement (500 words max if applying for a project hosted by one of Medical Sciences departments - please note that this limit might be different if a project is hosted by one of MPLS departments in which case follow their requirement) detailing your interest and fit for the studentship. Note that no project proposal is required for the iCASE studentship applications.

If you wish to apply for a combination of iCASE and other projects within the hosting department, this can be done on the same application form (max number of projects you can apply for on one application depends on the department you wish to apply to).

If you wish to apply for iCASE projects within different departments, you will have to make separate applications directly through those departments.

If you have any specific queries about the iCASE application process, please email .

All applications must be received by the deadline of 12 noon (UK time) Friday 1 December 2023.

We expect to interview shortlisted applicants in January/February and to make funding offers by the end of February. 

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

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