UC Berkeley, Aduro Biotech collaborate to discover cancer treatments

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Maya Valluru/Staff

UC Berkeley’s Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative, or IVRI, is partnering with leading immunotherapy company Aduro Biotech to discover new cures to various types of cancer and infectious diseases.

Faculty Director of IVRI David Raulet said the overall goal for IVRI is to develop the science that will create new therapeutics. Immunotherapy is a better cancer treatment than radioactive therapy, Raulet said, because while radioactive therapy does work for particular cancers, the effects are dangerous on the patient.

According to the IVRI website, its scientific vision is one that focuses on the immune system as the best defense against disease.

“We are combining discovery research addressing immune recognition, cellular interactions, and immune signaling pathways, with the applications of these findings for the development of novel therapeutic applications for many human diseases,” the IVRI website states.

The initiative was officially launched in 2016. According to Executive Director of IVRI Julia Schaletzky, IVRI will receive up to $9.5 million in funding from Aduro Biotech, which makes it the biggest industry grant UC Berkeley has currently.

Raulet said IVRI is a unique collaboration for two reasons — the first being that the initiative partners infectious disease researchers and cancer immunologists. This type of collaboration is rarely seen, Raulet added.

“The disciplines are often housed in different departments in universities,” Raulet said. “We think that what we’ve learned here is that speaking to each other is going to lead us to the solution.”

Raulet also said IVRI’s focus on basic science makes the initiative unique. Instead of focusing on a particular cancer or disease and the end result of their therapy, IVRI emphasizes an understanding of the basic molecular mechanisms.

Aduro Biotech recognized that IVRI’s approach was a “good way to go” and decided to invest in the research, according to Raulet. Aduro Biotech’s funding has helped IVRI reach a new level of research.

“The way that drug development occurs now in the world is that you can develop the idea in a lab, but we professors at Cal can’t run clinical trials,” Raulet said. “Companies almost always become involved at this stage.”

The next step, according to Raulet, is to transition from research on animals to human patients. He said this has been a challenge, as UC Berkeley does not have a medical school or hospital. Collaborations with scientists at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland and Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute have been providing human cancer samples for IVRI researchers, Raulet said.

“IVRI is one of these programs that wouldn’t be possible without generous industry funding, and it is a program that gets together two different areas to inform each other,” Schaletzky said. “It’s a successful example of private academic with public industry partnership. … We managed to generate a really good platform for research.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.