The Australian Research Council has put $360,000 towards a collaboration between Monash University and a biotech company chaired by Lucy Turnbull.

Prima BioMed (ASX:PRR) is working with the university to research a very specific part of the immune system — T cells and LAG-3.

LAG-3 is a protein that regulates the behaviour of T cells. T cells are the white blood cells that fight threats to the body, including cancer.

Prima is in the process of testing a drug, called IMP321, to see if it can help treat breast cancer and melanoma by interfering with LAG-3. Those trials are still in the early to mid-stages.

If you really want to nerd out, you can watch a very technical description of how it works in the video below.

Prima’s chief scientific and medical officer, Dr Frederic Triebel, was the person who discovered LAG-3 while at the Institut Gustave Roussy in France in 1990.

Professor Jamie Rossjohn, from Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute, said the government funding was a huge show of support for research into the area.

“Our proposal is innovative in combining state-of-the-art technology that will be fully integrated with the ground-breaking work of Dr Triebel, the leading authority in LAG-3 biology,” he said.

“This will help us to further understand the way that LAG-3 controls T cell signalling, which is important for both cancer and autoimmunity.”

The study will be conducted over three years.

Prima is listed on both the ASX and NASDAQ. Ms Turnbull has been chairman of the company since 2010.

News of the grant comes as the first anti-cancer drug based on T cells was granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration overnight in the US.