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.
“We look forward to working with the team at Fred Hutch to rapidly advance the promising CD20 technology to patients in need,” said Dr. Manuel Litchman, president and chief executive officer of Mustang Bio, in a news release announcing the licensing agreement. “With the execution of this agreement, Mustang is now evaluating six novel CAR T’s in clinical and preclinical trials, and we remain focused on expanding our pipeline of compelling CAR-T therapies.”
Other CAR-T therapies for lymphoma patients target the CD19 molecule, but the responses are not 100 percent, Till said. “Sometimes people lose the CD19 protein on their cancerous cells, and then the CD19 CAR-T therapy is no longer able to target and destroy the cancer. This usually results in relapse.”
The new clinical trial is one of the first in the world to target CD20 using CAR T-cell therapy. Till is hopeful the CD20 CAR T will work as well as — or if not better — than the CD19 CAR-T therapy, as suggested in preclinical studies. CD20 CAR T will provide an alternative for lymphoma patients whose cancer cells do not express CD19 and who would therefore not benefit from CD19 CAR-T therapy. Another option could be to use the CD20 CAR T as a combination therapy with CD19 CAR T or other agents that would work on multiple cancer markers to eliminate the disease.
“We are delighted by this partnership with Mustang Bio,” Till said. “We greatly value the CAR T-cell experience they bring to the table, in part derived from their work with our colleagues at the City of Hope.”
Preclinical development of this new strategy was supported by the Giuliani Family Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and the Bezos family. Press holds the David and Patricia Giuliani/Oliver Press Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Fred Hutch.
Note: Scientists at Fred Hutch played a role in developing these discoveries, and Fred Hutch and certain of its scientists may benefit financially from this work in the future.
— Molly McElroy, Fred Hutch News Service
Ovarian cancer nonprofit Colleen’s Dream Foundation awarded $15,000 to Dr. Kristin Anderson, a postdoctoral research fellow at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, to explore whether cancer immunotherapy — harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer — can prevent the initial development of ovarian cancer as well as recurrence of the disease.
Ovarian cancer, the deadliest gynecologic malignancy, affects one in 75 U.S. women, and the mortality rate has changed little in the past 20 years. Fewer than half of ovarian cancer patients will live five years after diagnosis. While the standard of care involves surgery and chemotherapy, tumors grow back in more than half of patients. Thus, there’s a great need for treatment options that prevent the disease in women at high risk and prevent disease recurrence in those treated, Anderson said.
“As a young biologist, I am dedicated to developing new treatment strategies that can help physicians improve outcomes for ovarian cancer patients,” said Anderson, a biologist who works in the laboratory of Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of Immunology at Fred Hutch. “My goal, with the support of Colleen’s Dream Foundation, is to accelerate the translation of genetically engineered immune T-cell therapy for ovarian cancer patients to prevent disease recurrence, which is so common today, and, eventually, to prevent disease in high-risk patients.”
To this end, Anderson plans to use a mouse model of ovarian cancer she developed to evaluate ways in which immune T cells can be engineered to effectively target ovarian cancers. So-called “adoptive T-cell therapy” can be used to boost a patient’s immune system so that it is better able to eliminate ovarian cancer cells.
“I am convinced that upon the completion of the proposed work, I will have the preclinical data required to initiate a clinical trial, which may eventually provide oncologists with a much-needed treatment option for patients at high risk for ovarian cancer recurrence or primary development,” she said.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer include having a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, as well as age; most women who develop the disease are diagnosed after menopause.
Colleen’s Dream Foundation, founded in 2012 by Nicole Cundiff and her husband, Billy Cundiff, a 12-year veteran kicker in the NFL, is a Scottsdale, Arizona-based nonprofit that supports research for early detection of and improved treatment for ovarian cancer. The Cundiffs started the philanthropy after Nicole's mother, Colleen Drury, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer.
“Colleen’s Dream Foundation believes it is important to raise money for research that will lead to reliable early detection testing and improved treatment for ovarian cancer,” according to a Colleen’s Dream Foundation statement. “Because so little is known about ovarian cancer in proportion to other women’s health issues, there is an incredible opportunity for research and education.”
“We are thrilled to support the promising work of Dr. Anderson and her dedication to advancing new discoveries that will impact the lives of many ovarian-cancer patients,” Billy Cundiff said.
— Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service
Hyundai Hope on Wheels on Tuesday presented Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist Dr. Cecilia Yeung with a $250,000 Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant. The ceremony on the Fred Hutch campus welcomed scientists, Hyundai dealers from across the Puget Sound area, children with cancer and their families and a special guest: Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
Yeung will use the two-year grant to study pediatric acute leukemia, or AL, the most common cancer in children. Last year, more than 5,000 U.S. children were diagnosed with the disease. Her work will aim to provide a test to diagnose AL at an earlier stage and better treat patients with personalized medicine.
“We are developing a one-of-a-kind, off-the-shelf test,” Yeung said. “I hope this will be a game changer for how we diagnose and treat pediatric acute leukemia."
The diagnostic test will be designed as an affordable option, similar to over-the-counter pregnancy tests. Yeung said it will guide personalized medicine by targeting a patient’s specific gene rearrangements and, hopefully, improve the clinical standard of care.
The event kicked off with words from Yeung, Pacific Northwest Hyundai representatives, and Wright, who voiced their support for the research, and patients and families battling childhood cancer.
Local childhood cancer patients marked the occasion by dipping their hands in paint and leaving their handprints on the foundation’s “hero vehicle,” a white 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe parked in front of Fred Hutch’s Thomas Building. The car will travel the country to help raise awareness of childhood cancers such as AL.
Many pediatric AL cases have detectable chromosomal rearrangements that allow for confirmation of the disease and provide prognostic information that can be used to guide therapy. However, the technology to detect these arrangements is costly and time-consuming. Delays are strongly suggested as contributing factors to early death in patients with AL. Earlier diagnosis could translate to real-time information in critical clinical settings, reduced time in the hospital and, ultimately, lives saved, according to Yeung.
Her award coincides with National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, during which Hyundai Hope On Wheels will award 40 research grants totaling $8.5 million to institutions nationwide. The organization has donated over $130 million since joining the fight against pediatric cancer in 1998. Overall, Hyundai Hope On Wheels has awarded more than $2.5 million to support Fred Hutch research.
“September is a special time for all of us at Hyundai because it’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time when we honor the courageous children battling cancer while also funding the doctors and researchers that are working tirelessly to provide care and develop new treatments,” said Scott Fink, chairman of the Hyundai Hope On Wheels board of directors. “Throughout the month we will share stories of the brave children battling cancer through our campaign theme called ‘Every Handprint Tells A Story’ and invite the public to join our fight.”
— Fritz Freudenberger / Fred Hutch News Service