2021 Innovation Discovery Grants (IDG) Awarded

Thursday afternoon highlights also included the awarding of six Innovation Discovery Grants (IDG) to Mass General Brigham investigators working on gene and cell therapy (GCT) advancements.
Each award winner will receive $100,000 toward ongoing development and future commercialization, based on the potential to improve health outcomes, meet articulated milestones, and attract follow-on investment as assessed by independent industry experts.
In a new aspect of the IDG awards this year, drug development experts from Bayer will provide mentoring to the awardees, covering scientific, technological, strategic and commercial aspects of innovation from proof of concept to market. Please join us in congratulating the awardees:

Generating Superior ‘Killers’ for Adoptive Cell Therapy in Cancer

Lydia Lynch, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

There is an unmet need for developing cell therapy that will work in solid tumors, which account for the majority of the 1.7 million cancer diagnoses every year. New cell therapies may offer the ability to reach and penetrate these tumors. The project aims to use ‘innate T cells’ for adoptive cell therapy for solid tumors, capitalizing on their innate homing abilities, use of donor blood products instead of patient blood, and their metabolic fitness to survive in the tumor.

Novel Strategies to Enhance Tfr Treatment of Autoimmunity

Peter Sage, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

It’s estimated that 50 million people are living with autoimmune diseases in the U.S. alone, creating a large need for therapeutic strategies to limit a host of potentially debilitating, and in some cases, life threatening diseases. The project centers on cell therapy that deploys Follicular Regulatory T (Tfr) cells as a much more specific and potent way to limit B cell mediated autoimmunity in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, as well as for chronic rejection after kidney transplantation. It uses an in vivo CRISPR screen to identify new pathways that can form the basis for novel therapeutics.

Long-Lasting mRNA Therapy for Genetic Disorders

Jinjun Shi, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

The use of synthetic mRNA nanotherapeutics has attracted significant attention given the recent FDA emergency-use authorization of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. This IDG grant supports research that aims to develop a clinically translatable lipid nanoparticle (LNP) platform technology enabling long-lasting mRNA therapy for genetic disorders. Goals are to achieve a prolonged duration of mRNA-mediated protein expression in mice for at least 30 days after a single injection; and validate the efficacy and safety of the new mRNA LNPs for a particular severe genetic bleeding disorder, hemophilia A. This long-lasting mRNA LNP technology could be readily expanded to other genetic diseases that require restoration of normal protein functions, and to other biomedical applications such as cancer and metabolic diseases.

AAV-Based Gene Replacement Therapy Improves Targeting and Clinical Outcomes in a Childhood CNS Disorder

Yulia Grishchuk, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital

Mucolipidosis IV (MLIV) is a highly debilitating central nervous system disorder resulting in resulting in motor and cognitive deficits and vision loss among children. There is currently no therapy for this disease. The project is developing and testing adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene replacement therapy with improved biodistribution and tissue targeting to address complex pathology involving CNS dysfunction and vision loss. The research may also pave the way for expanding use of this vector for other diseases.

Towards a Permanent Genetic Cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Benjamin Kleinstiver, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Center for Genomic Medicine

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is one of the leading causes of infantile death worldwide. While there are promising, FDA-approved therapies, these have potential limitations such as the need for repeated dosing or incomplete efficacy. The goal of this project is to develop a permanent genetic cure for SMA using novel genome editing technologies that target and permanently correct the disease-causing mutations of the SMN genes. This approach could establish a new paradigm for treating SMA, and, more broadly, other neurogenetic diseases.

Differentiation of Retinal Neurons for Cell Replacement in Glaucoma

Petr Baranov, MD, PhD, Massachusetts Eye and Ear

An estimated three million people are affected by glaucoma in the U.S., and increasing lifespans exacerbate the disease’s socio-economic and quality of life impact. The human retina lacks the ability to regenerate, and glaucoma has historically led to irreversible vision loss. Currently no cell or other therapies are available to compensate for the lost function or to regenerate or replace retinal ganglion cells (RCGs). The long-term goal of the project is to develop cell replacement therapy for glaucoma with the potential to restore lost vision.