MD Anderson and Xilis announce strategic collaboration to advance novel technology and accelerate therapeutic development

Preclinical research agreement brings together Xilis’ MicroOrganoSphere™ platform with MD Anderson’s expertise in cancer research and therapeutic development

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Xilis today announced a strategic collaboration to deploy Xilis’ proprietary MicroOrganoSphere™ (MOS) technology in support of preclinical research to accelerate the development of novel cancer therapies. 

Under the agreement, the two organizations aim to advance drug development and discovery projects utilizing the MOS platform, which enables translational research on patient-derived micro tumors with new capabilities and at a scale not possible with current in vivo models. If successful, this platform may offer opportunities for third-party collaborations to guide the development of new drugs and cell therapies. 

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current xenograft and organoid models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” said Xiling Shen, Ph.D., chief executive officer and co-founder of Xilis. “We look forward to working with the MD Anderson team to discover and develop the next generation of cancer treatments, and we welcome further conversations with pharmaceutical firms for tripartite drug development opportunities.”

The MOS platform at MD Anderson will be run jointly by the Xilis and MD Anderson teams, and the collaboration will be led by three MD Anderson scientists: Timothy Heffernan, Ph.D., vice president of Oncology Research for MD Anderson’s Translational Research to AdvanCe Therapeutics and Innovation in ONcology (TRACTION) platform, Scott Kopetz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, and Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy.

The MOS technology provides the first reliable platform to rapidly assess how a patient’s tumor responds to a wide variety of cancer drug modalities within 14 days of obtaining harvested tumor cell samples while also sustaining the native tumor microenvironment. This is essential for determining the full spectrum of therapeutic effects, including immuno-oncology, in the clinic.

The platform also is capable of accelerating the development of disease models, enabling new opportunities to further support discovery research, translational science and drug development efforts. The collaborators intend to explore how the MOS platform could be used to establish new patient-derived models underrepresented in the field, such as rare cancers and treatment-resistant disease.

“The ability to rapidly screen many drugs ex vivo and to build an expansive catalog of disease models addressing unmet needs opens new avenues to advance impactful medicines,” Heffernan said. “Our collaboration with Xilis will allow us to evaluate this exciting technology as a tool to improve the scale, speed and capabilities of our translational research efforts.”

The TRACTION platform, a core component of MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division, is designed to accelerate the development of innovative cancer therapies and to identify the right treatment for the right patients. MD Anderson’s natural killer (NK) cell therapy program, led by Rezvani, is advancing novel treatments for a variety of cancers using engineered cord blood-derived NK cells.

“Developing impactful cell therapies requires an accurate determination of which cells can produce the desired effect prior to introduction in patients,” Rezvani said. “In collaboration with the Xilis team, we aim to deploy the MOS platform to enable rapid screening and increase our chances of clinical success in our NK cell therapy program.”

Multiplexed imaging of MicroOrganospheres to evaluate drug response. Image courtesy of TRACTION platform.