Exploring new molecular targets on plasma cells as therapies for multiple myeloma

Lead researcher

Prof Stephen Nutt, Prof Lynn Corcoran

Prof Stephen Nutt, Prof Lynn Corcoran

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Tumour type:
Multiple Myeloma

Years funded

Project description

The antibodies that circulate in our blood stream are critical for good health, helping to neutralise invading micro-organisms as well as providing the immunity that protects us against reinfection. As the sole source of antibodies, the plasma cell plays a vital role in our immune defence but defective cells can also cause multiple myeloma.

This project aims to identify new molecules that can be used to target disease-causing plasma cells in multiple myeloma. We have screened genes active in immune cells and found 300 that are slectively found in plasma cells. We have identified three lead candidates and aim to produce a targeted drug therapy (monoclonal antibody) to see if it can recognise and destroy multiple myeloma cells. 

What is the need? 

Multiple myeloma afflicts about 1500 people a year in Australia, representing 1.3% of all cancers. It's a complex cancer, with multiple subgroups, and a prolonged disease course. Despite recent advances that have improved the outcomes for many patients, multiple myeloma remains an incurable disease with treatment options desiged to delay disease progression and relieve symptoms.

Given the complexity of the disease, it is likely that multiple approaches will be required to successfully treat patients. We have identified three new candidate targets for development and the potential of targeting these molecules in pre-clinical models of multiple myeloma.  

What impact will this research have?

Ultimately, successful completion of this project will result in new drug targets entering the drug development pipeline to treat multiple myeloma. We hope to collaborate with a pharmaceutical partner to develop targets for our candidates into clinically testable drugs.

It is also important to not that plasma cells play a destructive role in several autoimmune disease, such as Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis. Our findings may also have reprecussions for these types for diseases. 

Project timeline


   Identified 3 lead genes.

Collated cells and tissue from patient donors. Completed matching data set for the human genes to validate the 3 leads.   

    Developed antibodies we can use to confirm plasma and multiple myeloma cells have these molecules on their surface. Assessed the function of the genes on plasma cells in pre-clincial models.  

Tested monoclonal antibodies against the genes and test their ability to detect and target cells. Identify the best candidate for further develoment.


"Ultimately, successful completion of this project will result in new drug targets entering the drug development pipeline to treat multiple myeloma."