An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Michael Easterling | October 16, 2017
breakthroughs - Behnam Badie and Christine Brown Behnam Badie, M.D., and Christine Brown, Ph.D.
The remarkable progress made by Christine Brown, Ph.D., and Behnam Badie, M.D., in the research and treatment of aggressive brain cancers using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells continues to gain momentum.

Brown is the Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy and associate director of City of Hope's T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory. Badie is City of Hope's chief of neurosurgery and a formidable researcher in his own right. Together, they have received a $12.8 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to fund a clinical trial for their novel approach to treating malignant glioma, which includes glioblastoma, the most life-threatening form of brain cancer. The new clinical trial will be open to adults and children.

Malignant gliomas are highly invasive, making surgical removal difficult. They are challenging to treat with therapeutic drugs because of their location and the blood-brain barrier, which prevents medicine from entering the brain through the bloodstream. Currently, few effective therapies exist, and the five-year survival rate for glioblastoma patients is 5.5 percent.

The new CIRM-funded trial will allow more patients to receive an innovative therapy pioneered by Brown and Badie, in which CAR T cells are collected from the patient, reengineered and infused back to the patient as targeted cancer-cell destroyers.

City of Hope was among the first cancer centers to treat glioma patients with CAR T cells. Brown and Badie were the first in the world to administer CAR T cells directly into the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain, a procedure that likely contributed to the complete tumor regression and clinical remission in a glioblastoma patient last year, extending that patient's life for seven-and-a-half months. Researchers are hopeful that that experience will pave the way for sustainable treatment approaches in the near future.

“We are working hard to take this therapy to the next level for patients by finding new delivery methods and honing in on which method and combination of therapies works best,” Brown explained. “We urgently need more effective therapies for our patients with malignant gliomas, and we will not give up until we find them.”

Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory, says, “We are uniquely positioned as an enterprise to lead these trials, something CIRM acknowledges and rewards. 
“Few institutions have the same ‘bench to beside’ resources necessary for the discovery, development, manufacturing, quality assurance, testing and deployment we have to conduct leading-edge research,” Forman continued. “We have already made significant strides and we are extremely grateful that CIRM has recognized how crucial and urgent it is to support more research on malignant glioma and give patients better options and hope.”

In addition to Forman, Badie and Brown, other City of Hope research and medical collaborators on the new CIRM grant include Michael Barish, Ph.D., chair and professor of Department of Developmental and Stem Cell Biology; Russell Rockne, Ph.D., director of the Division of Mathematical Oncology; Vanessa Jonsson, Ph.D., assistant research professor; Darya Alizadeh, Ph.D., staff scientist; and M. Suzette Blanchard, Ph.D., associate research professor.

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