At Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, scientists are testing a two-pronged attack against cancer cells by super-charging the immune system. This therapy is being studied through a phase 1 clinical trial.
“Cancer cells are really smart,” observes Richard Koya, MD, PhD. “Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and even some immunotherapies may have some effect initially, but cancer cells have a way to evade them, to be resistant and grow back. That’s why it’s so difficult to treat cancer.”
As Associate Director of the Center for Immunotherapy and Director of the Vector Development and Production Facility, Dr. Koya spends a lot of time thinking about ways to help the immune system outsmart cancer. He developed this new immunotherapy with Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, Deputy Director of Roswell Park and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy.
“What we see over and over in trying to treat some of the most aggressive and intractable cancers, including many lung, brain, ovarian, breast, melanoma and sarcoma tumors, is that the tumor fights back,” says Dr. Odunsi. “We have identified a major pathway by which these kinds of cells try to disable immune cells, and formulated a strategy for exploiting that weakness.”
Super Immune Cells
In a process similar to donating blood, a patient’s T lymphocytes (T cells) are collected and sent over to the Center for Immunotherapy.
There, they are armed with receptors that enable the T cells to hunt down and destroy specific tumor cells. They’re also given a second gene to protect the T cells from attack by a protein tumors use for protection. Then, the T cells are infused back into the patient and get to work fighting cancer.
“Nobody else is doing the combination of these two different elements in the same platform anywhere in the United States or even on the planet,” says Dr. Koya.
This trial was made possible thanks to Roswell Park donations and funding from the National Institutes of Health.