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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Sept. 14, 2017

Dr. Brian Till

"It is very exciting to be able to bring this promising treatment to patients with relapsed lymphomas," said Dr. Brian Till of Fred Hutch's licensing agreement with Mustang Bio Inc.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Mustang Bio licenses Fred Hutch CD20 CAR-T immunotherapy for lymphoma trial 

An immunotherapy technology developed by Dr. Brian Till with Dr. Oliver Press at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has been licensed by Mustang Bio Inc., a subsidiary of the biopharmaceutical company Fortress Biotech Inc.

The exclusive, worldwide license, announced today by Mustang Bio, will allow a new type of CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy to be tested in a clinical trial as a treatment for B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The novel immunotherapy targets CD20, a protein marker on cancer cells in lymphoma.

“After developing the CD20 CAR for several years in the laboratory and seeing the modified T cells successfully treat tumors in mice, it is very exciting to be able to bring this promising treatment to patients with relapsed lymphomas,” said Till, a faculty member in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch.

“The agreement will also provide critical support to be able to conduct the clinical trial testing our CD20 CAR-T cells,” he said.

A Phase 1/2 clinical trial partially supported by Mustang Bio is expected to begin at the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner, within the next few months. It will be led by Dr. Mazyar Shadman, a faculty member in Fred Hutch’s Clinical Research Division. The trial will involve about 30 patients with relapsed or refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Eligible patients will first get a biopsy to make sure they have the CD20 marker on their tumor.

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Big study finds no rise in death risk among women who took hormone therapy

A new twist to menopausal hormone replacement dilemma

Sept. 12, 2017 | Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of doctor and female patient with pill bottle

The latest study from the Women's Health Initiative examined the risk of death associated with women's use of menopausal hormone replacement therapy.

Photo by Andy Dean Photography

More than a decade after a massive study of hormone replacement therapy was halted due to higher rates of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke among women assigned to the drugs to treat menopausal symptoms, a new follow-up study has found those women had no higher risk of death as of 2014 than participants who took a placebo.

The latest findings are published today in JAMA by investigators in the Women’s Health Initiative, the same multi-institutional research program that conducted the original trial begun in 1993 and stopped in 2002 because of those adverse effects. The new study focuses on “all-cause mortality,” or deaths from any cause, up to 18 years after the start of therapy and 10 to 12 years after the therapy was stopped. It offers reassurance to postmenopausal women who took hormone replacement therapy during the trial that they have not increased their risk of dying.

“Mortality rates,” said lead author Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, “are the ultimate ‘bottom line’ when assessing the net effect of a medication on serious and life-threatening health outcomes.”

Overall, the researchers found that the risk of dying from any cause through the end of the follow-up period in 2014 was the same for women who had taken hormone therapy as for women who had taken a placebo. To Manson, the study results give women and their doctors useful information when considering a complex treatment decision. They also offer comfort to younger women now contemplating hormone therapy to bring relief from hot flashes, night sweats and higher rates of bone loss or fractures due to menopause.

“We think the findings of no increase in mortality provide reassurance for women who are seeking hormone therapy for management of symptoms in early menopause,” she said.

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Teacher, mom — and living proof of principle

Three years ago she was out of options to treat her advanced cancer. Then, she enrolled in an immunotherapy clinical trial.

Sept. 8, 2017 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Photo of Tiffany O'Keefe and her family

Tiffany O'Keefe, photographed recently with her three children, participated in a clinical trial of an experimental immunotherapy to treat her advanced synovial sarcoma. While her cancer is still present, it has shrunk significantly since the trial, and her life has gone back to normal.

Photo by Deez Photography, courtesy of Tiffany O'Keefe

Tiffany O’Keefe will tell you that her life is pretty normal — at least as normal as it can be with three teenagers at home. For this Washington elementary-school teacher, normalcy is a huge accomplishment.

In 2004, O’Keefe, then 32, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her lung after she showed up at the ER with shortness of breath. In the course of the next decade, she lost that lung, endured miserable side effects from chemotherapy, and ran through treatment after treatment as her cancer recurred four times.

More than three years ago, O’Keefe enrolled on a clinical trial and became the first person ever to receive a new type of experimental cancer vaccine, which uses a modified virus to teach patients’ immune systems to kill their tumors. Her cancer shrunk to a fraction of its former size and, though it’s still present, has stayed quiet since then, allowing that precious normalcy to return.

“I used to tell the doctors, ‘I just want to see my kids graduate from high school, and that’s good — I just want to get them raised,’” O’Keefe said. Now, her oldest is 18, and she’s looking ahead to new milestones — like grandkids someday. “I used to think that might never happen for me,” she said.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Sept. 7, 2017

Dr. Michael Boeckh

Dr. Michael Boeckh

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Common virus can be deadly in the ICU

A common, normally dormant virus can make matters worse for patients with critical illness — and a new study hints that preventing the virus from reawakening in these critical moments could stem some of its harm.

More than half of people in the U.S. harbor cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which usually lies dormant, showing no signs or symptoms and doing no harm. In those with suppressed immune systems, however, such as organ-transplant recipients or cancer patients receiving a bone-marrow transplant, the virus can reactivate and cause severe infections — or even death.

Research has shown that CMV also may play a role in the fate of critically ill patients with “normal” immune systems. In these patients, if the virus reactivates from its latent state, it is associated with worse outcomes — but it was unclear whether the virus makes matters worse for these patients or is an innocent bystander, just along for the ride.

New findings from a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington suggest that preventing the virus from reactivating in critically ill, CMV-positive patients with normal immune systems could prevent severe CMV-associated complications. 

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5 things you can do to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer

Healthy prevention tips from a new data analysis of studies on 29 million adults: move your body, cancer-proof your plate

Sept. 6, 2017 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Illustration by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer can often seem like an arbitrary bombshell that drops out of nowhere and nonchalantly blows up your life. And it’s true: many cancer questions remain unanswered — especially with regard to cause and cure.

But we also have a lot of answers when it comes to reducing your cancer risk. We know definitively that smoking causes a host of cancers. Ditto for smokeless tobacco and environmental hazards like asbestos.

This week we got more news, although it may not seem all that new since a lot of it is advice you’ve heard dozens of times from your doctor — and your mom: Eat less and move more. Finish your vegetables. You’ve had enough alcohol, young lady.

It’s sage advice now borne out by a panel of scientists from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research, an internationally recognized group that includes Dr. Anne McTiernan, a longtime Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center epidemiologist who studies the connection between lifestyle and cancer.

So this time you may want to listen, especially if cancer of the large intestine, i.e., the colon, or its lower counterpart, the rectum, is a concern. These cancers, often lumped together under the term colorectal, are the third most common cancers worldwide and the fourth most common cancer killer. Colorectal cancers kill 700,000 people a year globally and here in the U.S., colorectal cancer rates — and deaths from those cancers — are rising in adults under 50.

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Will the flu vaccine work for you? Answer may be in your genes

Set of 9 genes that predicts flu response in adults under 35 could be first step to personalized vaccine

Aug. 31, 2017 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Illustration of two people receiving the flu vaccine

The yearly flu vaccine is our best bet at preventing the flu, but it doesn't work for everyone. A new collaborative study has pinpointed a signature of nine genes that can predict whether people 35 or younger will respond to the flu vaccine or not.

Illustration by Kim Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

For the first time, researchers have uncovered a set of genes that predicts whether the flu vaccine will work in adults 35 years old or younger.

The prediction, undertaken by a nationwide team of researchers known as the Human Immunology Project Consortium, came to light through a Big Data-scale analysis of more than 32,000 genes from more than 500 people who had received the flu vaccine in different parts of the U.S. during several different flu seasons. The study, published August 25 in the journal Science Immunology, looked at adults 35 years old and under, as well as those 60 and older, who had received the vaccine.

That variety of data was important to make sure the researchers were capturing a signature that could apply to a larger population, said Dr. Raphael Gottardo, a computational biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a senior author on the study. But the result was a large and complex dataset that required new computational tools to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The analysis pinpointed a set of nine genes linked to the immune response to flu shots, a discovery that could lead to better flu vaccines for those who don’t currently benefit as much from the yearly shot, Gottardo said. He emphasized, however, that results like these don’t mean people shouldn’t bother getting vaccinated. In fact, the opposite is true, even in years that the flu vaccine is less effective.

“There is this thinking that the flu vaccine just doesn’t work, which is just not true,” Gottardo said. “It can be highly effective in preventing infection, but I think we have a way to potentially improve it further by looking at these baseline responses.”

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