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Fiocruz and Pasteur create a center to develop immunotherapies for diseases such as cancer and sclerosis


The initiative has received investments of R$500 million; Infectious, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases are also among the research institute’s priorities

From this Friday, 17th, the Fiocruz Ceará will host the Pasteur Fiocruz Center for Immunology and Immunotherapy. Located in Eusébio, 30 minutes from Fortaleza, the building, used in 2020 to carry out Covid-19 diagnoses, has taken on a new meaning and now brings together researchers from the French Pasteur Institute and Fiocruz with the aim of developing immunotherapies for infectious and non-communicable diseases, including cancerand neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

The initiative also aims to expand access to these treatments and reduce their costs, especially for Unified Health System (SUS). “The pandemic leaves this legacy, which was built in that moment of chaos, and is now being restructured to generate benefits for the Brazilian population in another way,” said Caroline Passaes, a Brazilian immunologist and researcher at the Pasteur Institute.

As João Hermínio Martins da Silva, also research coordinator at the Pasteur Fiocruz Center, explains, immunotherapy is a form of treatment that aims to condition the patient’s immune system to recognize and fight diseases and infections.

In essence, it involves the use of monoclonal antibodies or nanobodies, as well as cell and gene therapies. Put simply: monoclonal antibodies, for example, exist when an antibody-producing cell is grown and reproduced in unlimited quantities, thus increasing its efficiency. This type of treatment, in general, is administered through vaccines or medications and is known to be less aggressive and more tolerable, especially for diseases such as cancer.

Financed by the Ministry of Health, Fiocruz and Pasteur, with a total investment of approximately R$ 500 million, including new equipment and resources previously applied to infrastructure during the pandemic, the initial priority of the Fiocruz Pasteur Center is to develop immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, infectious and neglected diseases, such as leishmaniasis and Chagas disease, as well as autoimmune, neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases.

The biggest objective, according to Martins, is to accelerate the production chain and expand access to this type of therapies, which have high costs especially for the public health system.

“Cellular therapy, for example, has an estimated cost on average of R$ 2 million per patient. In addition to having a high cost, it is not a widely applied therapy, because it must consider specificities such as the type of immune response of each If we consider that the research will come from a public investment, this implies that public health will benefit directly. Because it is very positive to have an article, it is very positive to have a thesis, a doctorate, but what about the SUS patient? “How will it benefit you? After all, that is our concern,” the researcher said.

According to the expert, the initiative also focuses on the pressure faced by the healthcare system with the increase in spending caused by the increase in cases of diseases such as cancer and the high cost of innovative therapies for these diseases.

“It is very promising to consider using this approach. Not only for cancer, but for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, leishmaniasis and many others that involve one type of receptor and one ligand, two cells that communicate or transit through the immune system, all of these are susceptible to this type of treatment”, said the researcher, who also highlighted the rapid aging of the Brazilian population as one of the factors contributing to the increase in the incidence of diseases, thus explaining the importance of this line of research and the support received from the public sphere.

Furthermore, considering the current context, where health emergencies have left the hypothetical field to become a susceptibility of our time, Caroline states that covid-19 has highlighted that immunotherapy, although often associated with cancer, has also proven to be important in fight emerging infectious diseases. This is because drugs using monoclonal antibodies, such as Paxlovid – which, although underused in SUS, has the potential to reduce coronavirus-related hospitalizations by up to 90% – began to be developed during the most critical period of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 represented a turning point, showing the possibility of accelerated development of this type of molecule in response to a question that was not known before,” said the researcher.

In addition to the benefit to Brazilian public health, the researchers also say that the developed research will also benefit neighboring Latin American countries and, by extension, the Global South and its emerging countries.

Apart from them, given that the Pasteur Institute is of French origin, the intention is that the country can jointly benefit from the cooperation between the institutions. “It is important to remember that the French territory is not only limited to mainland France in Europe, but includes several territories that face many of the same infectious diseases and arboviruses common in Latin America, such as dengue and yellow fever. So there is a mutual interest in promoting this synergy,” said Caroline.

Ecosystem of Ceará

According to the researcher, the choice of Ceará as the location of the Fiocruz center is due to several strategic and collaborative factors that date back to 2008, when a decree was signed allowing the expansion of Fiocruz in the region. Since then, there has been an alignment between the state, federal and municipal spheres that has facilitated the creation and prospecting of an environment conducive to the creation of a biotechnology hub.

Furthermore, according to Hermínio, the university and postgraduate courses present in the State, with expert researchers and combined with the growing demand, both from the Ministry of Health and the market itself, have contributed to making Ceará recognized as a favorable place for host the institution.

Furthermore, according to Caroline, the choice of the region also reflects the entire planning for the construction of Bio-Manguinhos, Fiocruz’s vaccine production unit. “Let’s say we are not the icing on the cake, but we add value and perhaps we are the missing piece to strengthen this ecosystem. We have a very favorable environment, favorable for our research to reach the people who really need it”, declared the researcher, who also states that the choice of the building evaluates public financing first, mentioning the R$ 18 million invested in the covid-19 diagnostic laboratory in 2020.

“For a moment we no longer had a sufficient number of Covid cases to justify the use of the structure for the previous purpose. So yes, it is a legacy that is now marked by a sum of complementary skills of Pasteur and Fiocruz together, fill gaps in research development and ensure easier access to immunotherapies,” said Caroline.

Source: Terra

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