Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Tuesday announced the official opening of a first-of-its-kind clinic dedicated to providing immunotherapies for cancer patients in clinical trials.
The Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic, named in recognition of a family that has been deeply committed to the Hutch and its work to advance immunotherapy, will allow researchers to conduct twice as many immunotherapy trials in the next year.
Patients will be able to receive the Hutch’s novel immunotherapies for cancer at roughly double the capacity that existed before the 9,222-square-foot clinic opened, and intensive monitoring will enable researchers to better understand why some patients respond, where others do not, and to achieve the goal of developing the best curative approach to treatment for each individual patient.
“We and scientists worldwide have been working for decades to understand how to harness the power of the immune system,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, Fred Hutch’s president and director. “Over the last few years we have taken what we have learned in the Hutch’s research labs and started to produce experimental treatments that we now can test; this clinic should inspire hope that we will find cures for cancers once thought incurable.”
The clinic features 15 patient care suites designed to accommodate a wide array of outpatient services and offer ample space for family and friends who accompany patients. Since the soft opening on Oct. 10, there have been more than 188 patient visits to the clinic, located on the sixth floor of the main outpatient building of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner.
Much of the focus at the new clinic is on therapies involving T cells, which play a central role in the immune system. Hutch scientists have been at the forefront of genetically modifying these cells so that they will more effectively target cancers. Staff at the clinic will take these immune cells from a patient, have the cells specially engineered in a nearby Hutch cell-processing facility, and then re-infuse them to attack the patient’s cancer.
Suzanne McCarroll, who was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008, is one of these patients. After her disease relapsed for the second time, she came to the Hutch this August to participate in an ongoing clinical trial under the leadership of Dr. David Maloney, who holds the Leonard and Norma Klorfine Endowed Chair for Clinical Research at Fred Hutch.
“I feel absolutely fabulous,” said McCarroll, who was placed into complete remission after receiving two infusions of her genetically modified cells. She flew back home to Colorado at the end of October.
McCarroll praised the new immunotherapy clinic, where she received care under the trial.
“Just spatially and esthetically, it’s so incredibly beautiful, high-tech, cheerful, and immaculate, and it’s just run so efficiently,” she said.
McCarroll appreciated the time the doctors took to answer her questions and the “contagious” excitement of the clinic’s medical staff about the experimental therapy she received.
“That is such a comfort when you’re already nervous and worried, to have the caregivers to be really enthusiastic and positive — I think it’s as good as medicine gets,” she said.
With the new clinic, the Hutch anticipates conducting about 12 immunotherapy trials in 2017, up from five trials running in 2016. There are plans to open four trials in the immunotherapy clinic for patients with types of solid tumors that have not previously been treated with cellular immunotherapy.
Fred Hutch will celebrate a grand opening of the clinic on Dec. 12 with a scientific symposium.
Fred Hutch News Service reporter Susan Keown contributed reporting to this story.