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Foundation Backs Engineered T-Cells to Treat Lymphoma

T-cells illustration

T-cells (NASA.gov)

29 Jan. 2019. A new initiative is researching modified immune system cells to treat T-cell lymphoma, a type of blood-related cancer, with a simpler, lower-cost process. The 3-year, $8 million project was announced yesterday at the Stand Up to Cancer Scientific Summit in Santa Monica, California, organized by American Association for Cancer Research, or AACR.

The project plans to research the engineering of T-cells in the immune system as a therapy for T-cell lymphoma. Like other lymphomas, T-cell lymphoma affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that mutates and proliferates rapidly. T-cell lymphoma affects T-cells, white blood cells in the immune system that attack invading pathogens, and according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation accounts for about 7 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas also affecting the lymph nodes and lymphatic system in the body. T-cell lymphoma is considered particularly difficult to treat since T-cells are essential elements of the body’s immune system.

A promising type of cancer immunotherapy — cancer treatments that harness the immune system — is the genetic modification of T-cells, providing the cells with cancer-fighting properties. This process adds chimeric antigen receptors, proteins attracting antibodies that bind to and destroy cancer cells, in this case other T-cells expressing indicators of lymphoma. In most cases, chimeric antigen receptor or CAR T-cells, are derived from a patient’s own T-cells.

In this new project, the researchers plan to study production of banked, off-the-shelf CAR T-cells to make the treatments more widely available, less labor intensive, and lower in cost to patients. In addition, the T-cells would be engineered to work separately from other immune-system cells. The researchers also plan to assess a companion drug that reduces the size of cancerous lymphoma cells, as well as identify biomarkers, or molecular indicators in the body to help track effects of the treatments.

The project is assembling what Stand Up to Cancer calls a dream team of researchers for this type of cancer and therapy. Leading the team is Helen Heslop, director of cell and gene therapy at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and Gianpietro Dotti, professor of microbiology and immunology at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Both Heslop and Dotti study engineered cells as cancer therapies, including CAR T-cells, as treatments for lymphomas. Joining the team are research colleagues from Baylor and UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Wake Forest Baptist Health cancer center.

The researchers plan to assess results from clinical trials on a number of CAR T-cell therapies to identify an optimal solution. In an AACR statement, Heslop explains that the team expects to evaluate “several different targets and several different sorts of immune effector cells. It’s a modular sort of system where we can hopefully combine the best from each different approach to produce a therapy that will improve outcomes in this patient population.”

Stand Up to Cancer, in Los Angeles, is an initiative of Entertainment Industry Foundation. The charity foundation was formed in 2008 by film and media executives who use the industry’s resources to encourage a more collaborative model for cancer research.

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