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Hospital Network Formed for Childhood Cancer Immunotherapies

T-cells illustration

T-cells (NASA.gov)

13 June 2018. A network of academic children’s medical centers is being formed to expand access to clinical trials testing immunotherapy treatments for childhood cancer. The CureWorks collaborative is led by Seattle Children’s hospital, with Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC, BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles taking part.

CureWorks aims to make clinical trials more accessible for emerging treatments for cancer such as chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, or CAR-T, that report promising results. Those treatments genetically engineer T-cells from the immune system — in most cases, the patient’s own T-cells — by adding chimeric antigen receptors, proteins attracting antibodies that bind to and destroy blood-related and solid tumor cancer cells. In clinical trials so far, CAR-T treatments report high rates of remissions, but also high rates of adverse effects, including severe effects leading to deaths of participants.

Seattle Children’s is making its T-cell lab facilities available to participating medical centers. Patients enrolled in clinical trials at participating institutions can send a patient’s T-cells to Seattle, where they will be modified to express CAR-T receptor proteins. The engineered T-cells will then be returned to the original hospital for infusion back into the patient.

CureWorks participating institutions will also offer their patients access to clinical trials of CAR-T therapies at  other CureWorks hospitals. At present, 4 trials are underway, all early- and intermediate-stage studies of CAR-T treatments mainly for leukemia, but also a trial testing the therapies in patients with lymphoma. A fifth study among leukemia patients is in preparation. All of the trials are currently held only at Seattle Children’s.

“Our hope is that through this collaboration,” says CureWorks executive director Michael Jensen in a joint statement, “we’ll be able to more quickly develop treatments with fewer side effects, better remission rates and, ultimately, enable more kids with cancer to grow up and realize their full potential.” Jensen is also director of childhood cancer research at Seattle Children’s.

Catherine Bollard, director of cancer and immunology research at Children’s National Health System adds, “By expanding cancer immunotherapies developed at CureWorks institutions including Children’s National, we hope to increase patient access to life-saving novel therapies across the United States, while also accelerating the pace of pediatric cancer research.”

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