According to a press release from the Los Angeles-area nonprofit, its Meg Vosburg T-Cell Lymphoma Dream Team: Tailoring CAR-based Immunotherapy Strategies to T-cell Lymphoma will be headed by Helen Heslop, MD, from the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and Gianpietro Dotti, MD, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH).
Prior attempts to develop immunotherapies for T-cell lymphoma have not succeeded in attacking cancer cells while avoiding damage to healthy immune cells. The team of investigators is evaluating different targets and immune cells to exploit “the potential of the immune system to cure T-cell lymphoma,” according to Heslop, who is the director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at BCM, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Texas Children’s Hospital.
By introducing new receptors in T-cells, the team intends to better recognize and kill lymphoma cells. “It’s a modular sort of system where we can hopefully combine the best from each different approach to produce a therapy that will improve outcomes in this patient population,” Heslop said.
In addition, the researchers aim to modify the CAR-carrying cells to both help reduce the cancer and prepare the patients for potential stem cell transplants.
CAR T-cell therapy — which consists of collecting a patient’s own T-cells and modifying them in the lab to recognize cancer cells more effectively — is usually personalized, but the scientists are working on a strategy to develop CAR cells on an “off-the-shelf” basis to improve availability and reduce costs.
They are also trying to find biomarkers to help track treatment effectiveness, and are evaluating a small molecule with encouraging activity in T-cell lymphoma as a size-reducing regimen, they said.
“We are proud to extend SU2C’s work into T-cell lymphoma,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist from the Massachusetts institute of Technology and chairman of SU2C’s scientific advisory committee. “The Dream Team’s approach could bring a highly effective new treatment to what is now a relatively intractable disease.”
Besides Heslop and Dotti — the director of the immunotherapy program at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center — the dream team includes other scientists from both BCM and UNC-CH as well as from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Advocates for the team include Patty Spears, from the UNC Lineberger Patient Research Advocacy Group; Gustavo Ayala, MD, a parent of a teenager with T-cell lymphoma; Bambi Grilley, BCM’s director of clinical research and early product development at cell and gene therapy; and Ruth Sorelle, a retired journalist and survivor of NK-T cell lymphoma.
The announcement of the dream team was made at the annual SU2C Scientific Summit, which was organized by the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C’s scientific partner. The team honors the memory of Meg Vosburg, who died from T-cell lymphoma in 2018 at 51 years old.
“It’s been just over a year since Meg’s diagnosis and I’m excited to hear about the new ideas to help patients in the foreseeable future as a result of this Dream Team,” said Craig Vosburg, Meg’s husband. “Meg had a passion for making people’s lives better, which she did through education and helping them find ways to pursue their dreams. What better way to continue doing that than by extending lives and someday finding a cure for future patients.”