Immunotherapy Research Highlights

Directed Giving Opportunities

Immunotherapy Research Highlights

At Fred Hutch, our researchers have earned worldwide renown for developing successful treatments that harness the immune system to fight cancer, much as it naturally eliminates everyday infections like the common cold.

The Hutch's Nobel Prize-winning work on bone marrow transplantation provided the first example of the power of the human immune system to cure cancer. Today, we continue to lead this revolutionary field, called immunotherapy, which yields effective cancer treatments with far fewer side effects than conventional drugs, radiation or surgery.

We've already used immunotherapy to boost survival rates for patients with leukemia and other blood cancers. More recently we've shown it has promise for treating aggressive skin and kidney cancers.

We're uniquely poised to apply our dramatically different treatment approach to thousands more patients who suffer from breast, ovarian, prostate and other common cancers. As we work to expand our efforts in immunotherapy in the coming years, our goal is to have the same impact on these cancers that bone-marrow transplantation has had on leukemia.

E. Donnall Thomas' Legacy

Watch a video about Dr. Thomas, Nobel prize winner and former head of the Clinical Research Division

Discoveries that save lives

Some of the world’s most significant immunotherapy breakthroughs have occurred at Fred Hutch. These achievements have occurred in several major areas, including:

T-cell therapy to target and destroy harmful cancer cells

Our researchers were the first to show that rare disease-fighting cells called T-cells can be extracted from patients, multiplied in large quantities and infused back into patients to treat viral diseases. No other cancer center in the country is as advanced or sophisticated as the Hutch in this area of immunotherapy.

Our researchers have established that T-cell therapy can boost the body's ability to fight disease in patients with viral diseases, such as cytomegalovirus and HIV, and cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma and breast cancer. In the case of melanoma and breast cancer, researchers have witnessed striking regressions in a small number of patients with tumors that were resistant to conventional therapies.

Dr. Cassian Yee and colleagues reported the first known successful use of a melanoma patient’s own cloned T-cells as the sole therapy to put his advanced solid-tumor cancer into long-term remission. Two years after a 52-year-old Oregon man received an infusion of 5 billion copies of his own CD4+ T-cells, a type of white blood cell that attacks a specific or foreign protein associated with his cancer, he continued to be cancer-free. Because Yee's findings represented only one patient, he plans to conduct broader trials in hopes of confirming the results.

Dr. Stanley Riddell and colleagues discovered a rare subset of T-cells capable of surviving in patients for extended periods, providing a long-lasting, renewable source of cancer-fighting immune cells. The identification of these "central memory" T-cells is a breakthrough that promises to dramatically improve the clinical success of T-cell therapy.

More resources:

Patient's own infection-fighting T cells put late-stage melanoma into long-term remission — without chemotherapy or radiation

Melanoma stopped in patient with 5 billion copies of own cell
Bloomberg, June 19, 2008

New weapon to fight melanoma

ABC News, June 18, 2008

Antibody-based treatments to deliver therapy to tumor cells

Antibody-based therapy uses small proteins to directly attack tumors or to allow therapeutic agents to be delivered directly to cancer cells, sparing healthy cells and thus minimizing harmful side effects. Our scientists are leaders in using antibodies either alone or attached to radioactive molecules or chemotherapy to treat cancer.

  • Our researchers, including Dr. David Maloney, also helped to pioneer the use of an antibody for the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which led to the development of the first medication of its kind approved in the United States for the treatment of malignant disease — one of the world's top-selling cancer drugs, Rituxan™.

  • Our investigators helped to develop antibodies tagged with radiation that can be delivered directly to cancer cells. This therapy allows the use of higher doses of radiation with less toxicity to the patient. Our scientists, including Dr. Oliver Press, were among the first to test the technique in lymphoma patients and were instrumental in the FDA approval of Bexxar™ for treatment of follicular lymphomas.

More resources:

Unraveling how tumor cells evade detection

Targeting lymphomas with special antibodies