Guarding against relapse, and more
Although blood stem cell transplantation currently offers the best chance of a cure for patients with certain leukemias, many of those individuals still face a high risk of their disease returning. Philanthropic support has helped Drs. Merav Bar, Aude Chapuis and Phil Greenberg apply the power of engineered T-cells to solving this problem.
The researchers are testing the safety of giving specialized T-cells, derived from the transplant donor, to patients with acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome who have relapsed following their transplants or are at high risk for relapse. The therapeutic T-cells have been genetically engineered with receptors specially selected for their ability to trigger a strong immune response to a target molecule called WT1. WT1 is up to 1,000 times more abundant on the cancerous cells than on healthy versions of the same type of blood cell.
Leukemias aren’t the only cancers that display high levels of WT1, and preparations are already under way to apply this approach to lung and pancreatic cancers. The trial in lung cancer patients could begin by the middle of 2014. The trial for pancreatic cancer patients should begin by early 2015.
Progress in sarcoma immunotherapy
Dr. Seth Pollack has made significant progress in a clinical trial — made possible by private support — of a T-cell therapy for patients with advanced sarcomas. The treatment curtailed tumor growth in most of the six patients treated to date, and in some cases the tumors shrank dramatically, indicating the immune system can gain the upper hand. But analyses suggest the need for more refinements to consistently produce permanent improvements for patients.
One of Dr. Pollack’s goals over the coming year is to explore how sarcoma cells evade the immune system so he can enhance the therapy’s effects. This work, along with a new trial of a possible T-cell booster, will be supported by a grant Dr. Pollack received from the National Cancer Institute thanks to progress made with the help of private support.
He is also developing a trial combining T-cell therapy with tumor-directed radiation. Recent studies suggest that targeted radiation therapy may make tumors more vulnerable to T-cell therapy. Dr. Pollack plans to submit this protocol soon in order to test this approach for sarcoma patients who received T-cell therapy on the previous protocol but then progressed.
Melanoma TIL trial launched
Drs. Sylvia Lee and Kim Margolin and their colleagues recently established a melanoma tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) program at Fred Hutch — the only one on the West Coast — and opened their first clinical trial late in the summer of 2013. The opportunity to offer patients this promising experimental treatment, which employs T-cells that have been isolated from the patient’s tumor and selected based on their ability to grow and attack the cancer, is a direct result of months of hard work by our researchers, all sustained by your generous support.
These are just the first steps in what our scientists anticipate will be a new and transformative cancer therapy. Fred Hutch researchers are already developing versions of these immune-based approaches that target many common and difficult-to-treat cancers, including lung cancer, some types of breast cancer, pediatric neuroblastoma, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer. The potential to bring our immunotherapies to so many more patients in the near future is a truly revolutionary opportunity — one you helped put within reach through your support at the Premier Chefs Dinner. Thank you.