AAHI Addresses the Cancer Surival Gap In Africa

MAY 2024

Cancer is a leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries, killing more people than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) combined. Several factors contribute to the poor survival of people diagnosed with cancer in low resource regions, but one key contributor is the inaccessibility of cancer treatments. Many of the most effective therapies against cancer are expensive or require a sophisticated healthcare infrastructure to administer.

Dr. Corey Casper, MD, MPH, President and Chief Executive Officer at AAHI has seen first-hand the devastating effects of completely preventable cancers on people in low-resource regions. With a research specialization in the relationship between infections, immunity and cancer, two decades ago he started to work in Uganda, where six out of the ten most common cancers are due to infectious diseases. Dr. Casper founded the first Global Oncology program at a US National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center, and built a relationship with the Uganda Cancer Institute. Over the course of a two-decade alliance, together these parties opened a state-of-the-art cancer clinic, conducted groundbreaking research on the causes and treatments of infection-related cancers, and trained more than 200 healthcare workers and researchers committed to providing accessible cancer prevention and treatment. This success in Uganda was the beginning of a larger vision – to reduce cancer deaths in Africa by creating accessible and affordable vaccines and immunotherapies, the bedrock of AAHI’s mission.

Staff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCR) and the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) in UCI's clinical ward. Major medical discoveries in developing countries can lead to collaborative relationships between north and south institutions. Photograph by Clayton Hibbard, courtesy of FHCR.(AAAS, Varmus, 2014).

As AAHI’s CEO and a physician treating cancer patients at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Dr. Casper applies his deep expertise in cancer, especially cancers caused by infectious diseases, to develop AAHI’s immune-enhancing platform technologies to create cancer immunotherapies that can be administered and made in low-resource regions. AAHI’s three decades of experience inventing, advancing, and deploying safe and effective products that enhance the immune response to infectious diseases for highly effective vaccines can be impactfully directed at generating effective immune responses against tumors. Considering accessibility characteristics early in development is inherent in AAHI’s approach to product development – use of sustainably sourced and affordable raw materials; stability for ease of distribution, storage, and administration; and streamlined manufacturing processes to enable local sustainability. Taken together, AAHI is uniquely situated to advance safe and effective immunotherapeutics that can be accessible to every person on the globe.

Plummer M, deMartel C, Vignat J. Ferlay J. Bray F. Franceschi S. Global burden of cancers attributable to infections in 2012: a synthetic analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2016 Sep;4(9):e609-16. License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Immunotherapy, or the harnessing of the human immune system to destroy cancer within a person’s body, has revolutionized cancer treatment, markedly improving cancer survival rates since the first immunotherapy drugs were approved in 2015 by nearly cutting cancer deaths in the U.S. in half. But these life-saving immunotherapy drugs are extraordinarily expensive and remain out of reach even for people in high-income countries, let alone in developing nations, with an average cost of $100,000 per treatment – the latest to hit the market was priced at over $500,000. AAHI is committed to developing affordable solutions that can be accessed by people anywhere in the world, especially in Africa, where cancer claims the lives of nearly more than 750,000 people annually and most costs of cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment are paid out-of-pocket.

Cancer is clever – cloaking itself from immune detection to proliferate unchecked – and cancer has traditionally been treated with harsh chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill cancer cells, with harmful systemic side effects. Recent advancements in immunotherapy, however, have changed the cancer treatment paradigm. AAHI’s adjuvant formulations and self-amplifying RNA product development platforms, alone or in combination, hold tremendous promise for treatment and prevention of primary and secondary cancers.

The ability to alter the microenvironment of a tumor, for example, has revolutionized medicine, enabling treatment that mobilizes the body’s own immune protections. Injecting immune-stimulating adjuvant formulations directly into a tumor or used systemically can effectively paint a target on the tumor- clearly identifying the tumor to the body’s innate immune system and activating a robust immune response to reduce or eliminate the tumor. AAHI’s adjuvant formulations have demonstrated potential to treat/prevent some of the most common cancers in sub-Saharan Africa, including cervical cancer, lymphoma and sarcoma. Similarly, AAHI’s self-amplifying RNA, delivered by the innovative Nanostructured Lipid Carrier (NLC), has demonstrated robust T cell responses in preclinical studies as a therapeutic human papillomavirus infection (HPV) vaccine to treat HPV-associated cancers such as cervical cancer and head and neck cancer. The team continues to characterize anti-tumor effects and are developing human clinical trials to advance the vaccine candidate.

AAHI is working with valued collaborators and partners to build capacity for cancer research, product development, and treatment by Africans for Africa, so that cancer immunotherapy can be made available and accessible to prevent or reduce cancer deaths in Africa.

As examples of AAHI's efforts:

  • AAHI is working with researchers in the US, Brazil, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa to evaluate the use of AAHI immunotherapies to treat pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix and prevent the development of cervical cancer
  • AAHI served on an NCI panel to plan collaborative capacity building efforts for cancer in Botswana and South Africa;
  • AAHI is working with its partner, ImmunityBio, to transfer manufacturing  know-how and processes to entities in South Africa and Botswana, to enable local production of immunotherapies;
  • AAHI has expanded its collaboration with Solventum, a spin-out of 3M’s Health Care Business Group, to develop innovative adjuvants for targeted cancer applications.

Under Dr. Casper’s leadership, AAHI is well positioned to extend the promise of its platforms to cancer, advancing effective and affordable immunotherapy for infection-related cancers of high burden in Southern Africa, and by supporting and building capacity in Southern Africa for cancer research, cancer immunotherapy development, and cancer treatment.