A team of Texas researchers received a grant of $5 million from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to develop targeted immunotherapies for blood cancers.
The Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant will provide funding over five years to scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine and the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Texas Children’s Hospital to help design these new strategies for leukemia and lymphoma.
Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) — a procedure to remove and replace damaged bone marrow tissue with healthy bone marrow stem cells that are able to give rise to all types of blood cells — has been, for many years, the only cure for several blood malignancies, including leukemia and lymphomas.
Unfortunately, the procedure is associated with several complications, some potentially fatal, including organ damage, infections, cataracts, infertility, and graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) — a serious complication in which the transplanted bone marrow stem cells see the host’s body as a threat and start to attack it.
Now, with the advent of promising targeted cancer immunotherapies that use the power of the body’s own immune system to fight against cancer, researchers are hopeful such therapies may be further developed to be applicable to a wider range of blood cancers and, therefore, minimize the need for BMT.
“The results we’ve seen so far using T cell therapy are very encouraging, and while we hope these therapies can alleviate the need for BMT, extending this success to other blood cancers has been challenging for many reasons,” Helen Heslop, MD, a professor of medicine and pediatrics in hematology-oncology and director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, said in a press release.
“Our overall goal of this SCOR is to extend our past successes in developing targeted cellular therapies so that these effective treatments can become standard of care for the broadest possible range of blood cancers,” she added.
The team of investigators is now aiming to improve current therapies, as well as develop new strategies, such as targeting several proteins from cancer cells at once — using a special vaccine to boost the ability of modified T-cells to detect and destroy malignant myeloma cells — and testing an artificial receptor on the surface of T-cells to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Researchers are also planning to improve the activity of banked cells — cells that have been cryopreserved (frozen) and stored for future use — that are readily available to patients, as opposed to patient-specific cell therapies that can be more costly and time-consuming.
“This SCOR will develop and implement first-in-man studies with the potential to become clinically effective adoptive cell therapies for diseases that currently lack safe, curative options including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, and AML,” Heslop said.
“We will judge the success of our proposed projects based on the clinical activity of these new therapies. Our ultimate indicator of success will be whether the treatments developed by our SCOR eventually become standard of care for patients,” she added.