New funding for CAR-T cell study gives brain cancer research a boost

October 26, 2015 | by City of Hope

Brain cancer is one of the toughest foes a doctor can face. It’s a tenacious form of cancer, inoperable in some cases and lethal in many. But at City of Hope, researchers are exploring new ways to conquer the most serious types of brain tumors in a clinical trial that deploys a patient’s own modified T cells to target cancer at the tumor site.

This phase 1 clinical trial, which uses a patient’s own genetically engineered T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells, just received $600,000 in additional funding from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Over the next three years, these funds will support the evaluation of CAR-T cell therapy for patients with advanced tumors. Another arm of this trial is being supported by a grant from the Gateway for Cancer Research Foundation.

Renowned City of Hope researchers and clinicians will collaborate on the trial. They include Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of the Division of Neurosurgery; Christine Brown, Ph.D., associate director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory; and Stephen J. Forman, M.D., leader of the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute, as well as the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.

Badie and Brown are co-principal investigators on the grant. Badie oversees the clinical trial, while Brown oversees the manufacture of the CAR-T cells, and research studies to evaluate the therapy. Forman is the director of the T Cell Immunotherapy Laboratory at City of Hope.

Finding effective methods of destroying brain tumors has challenged researchers like Badie, Brown and Forman for decades. One problem is cancer’s ability to hide from the patient’s immune system. But with CAR-T cell therapy, a patient’s own T cells are collected and then modified to produce chimeric antigen receptors (CAR), which recognize cancer cells and kill them. A potent ally in the battle against brain cancer has been revealed.

In this clinical trial, patients with advanced brain tumors will receive injections (directly at the tumor site) of immune cells genetically modified to recognize certain markers expressed by the cancer cells. The trial will evaluate this new therapy with the goal of determining a safe therapeutic dose. That discovery will help clinicians target and treat some of the toughest cancers known to science.

“High-grade brain tumors such as glioblastoma are one of the least curable of all cancers,” Brown said. “This challenge is a driving force behind the development of new treatments, such as CAR-T cell immunotherapy, being developed at City of Hope. We hope this novel therapy will provide critically needed improvement in outcomes for patients.”

Badie sees those improvements on the health care horizon.

“The data from our preclinical studies makes us confident that this treatment has the potential to be very powerful and last longer than previous attempts at immunotherapy for brain cancer,” Badie has said. “This could take the treatment of brain tumors to the next level, and open up a new avenue to patients who badly need it.”

At City of Hope, these milestones are the result of research and clinical expertise working in unison, Brown pointed out.

“It’s exciting to see our CAR-T cell research translated to a clinical trial,” she said. “This collaboration of basic science and clinical expertise provides a unique benefit for our patients.”

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Read more about City of Hope's research and Brain Tumor Program. Learn more about our unique patient experience, how to make an appointment or get a second opinion at City of Hope. You may also request a new patient appointment online or call 800-826-HOPE (4673) for more information.

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