The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave City of Hope the go-ahead to conduct a first-ever clinical trial. The study uses a special kind of T cell, called a central memory T cell, to attack lymphoma.
Stephen Forman, right, is combining central memory T cell therapy with hematopoietic cell transplantation. (Photo by Walter Urie)
The experimental therapy is called adoptive central memory T cell therapy. And not only could it one day knock out patients’ cancer, but it might protect them from relapse for life.
T cells are a family of white blood cells that are critical to the immune system. They fend off infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses.
Central memory T cells are the T cells that maintain immunity after a person contracts an infectious disease such as the flu. They’re the reason you don’t get the same cold or flu twice. They “remember” different infectious agents long after the agents have been defeated. If the invader tries to return, central memory T cells quickly respond, boosting immune response and warding off disease.
In adoptive central memory T cell therapy, scientists remove some of these cells from a cancer patient and genetically program them to recognize and respond to a protein on the surface of cancer cells. They then grow large numbers of the programmed T cells in a special lab. When they have enough, they return them to the patient’s bloodstream in hopes the cells will thrive and fight off the cancer.
In the current study, the researchers armed the T cells to respond to B cell lymphoma. It’s the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Patients receive the modified T cells after they undergo an autologous stem cell transplant. In this therapy, they receive their own, purified blood stem cells following intensive treatment to kill lymphoma cells. A successful transplant renews a patient’s immune system.
Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, and Michael C. Jensen, M.D., a former City of Hope researcher now at the University of Washington in Seattle, led the clinical research team that developed the immunotherapy.
"Our use of central memory T cells as part of an autologous transplant is unique to our therapy and sets our approach apart from other T cell treatments in development,” said Forman.
Physicians hope these altered cells will become part of the patient’s immune system that develops after transplant and help prevent recurrence of the lymphoma, improving the cure rate of the transplant.
In October, the phase I clinical trial began enrolling patients with high-risk intermediate-grade B cell lymphomas. The trial’s goal is to weigh the safety and dosing of the therapy and find out whether the cells can become part of the newly developing immune system after transplant.
The adoptive central memory T cell research is funded by the Tim Nesvig Lymphoma Fellowship and Research Fund.