Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT)
RESEARCH PLATFORM FOR
THE MOON SHOTS PROGRAM
Therapies that harness the body’s own natural defenses are ushering in a new era in cancer treatment. These cellular therapies offer the promise of minimal toxicities with the benefit of long-term immune protection.
The power of immunotherapy lies in its ability to discriminate between cancer cells and the body’s own healthy cells while providing a multi-pronged attack. Over the last decade, groundbreaking research in understanding the immune system and how to unlock its anti-tumor potential has led to adoptive cellular therapies with the potential to eradicate cancers that resist conventional and targeted therapies. These treatments have led to the promise of more effective and long-lasting anti-cancer strategies.
Designing immune cells to attack cancer
One approach to immunotherapy involves engineering patients’ own immune cells (e.g., T cells) to recognize and attack their own tumors. This approach has been tested in a number of clinical trials, revealing the power of these designed immune cells to generate remarkable responses in patients with advanced blood cancers. These cell-based therapies appeal to patients, since clinical-grade cells can be generated, infused and delivered to our patients by researchers and clinicians at MD Anderson. However, we recognize that many promising cellular therapies remain out of reach for the majority of patients, and this will continue to hamper progress unless addressed.
The mission of the adoptive cell therapy (ACT) platform is to help implement cellular therapies across MD Anderson and to rapidly innovate and develop new cellular therapies for first-in-human use.
Personalizing and multiplying killer immune cells
ACT aims to develop new ways to generate immune cells specifically targeted to fight cancer. This research engine will personalize cellular therapies and make them available to many more patients worldwide, thanks to our innovations in reproducing these cells. In addition to multiplying cells, we need to train them to home in on specific patients’ tumors. One type of immunotherapy will not fit all patients. We will learn to match the uniqueness of individuals’ tumors with the appropriate immunotherapies.
In high-risk acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients, donor natural killer (NK) cell infusions have resulted in remission. However, this approach has been limited by the relatively low number of NK cells that can be collected from donors. Using technology developed right here at MD Anderson, we have found a way to overcome this problem by multiplying NK cells in the lab to provide a far larger dose of activated tumor-killing NK cells.
The ACT team at MD Anderson is conducting studies to demonstrate the ability of the altered T cells to target and eliminate tumor cells. The system followed for multiplying NK cells has proven to be superior to all other reported methods, yielding over 30,000-fold expansion in three weeks.
We also have shown in mouse models that NK cells from cord blood that have been multiplied in the lab accelerate the rebuilding of the immune system in the recipient and kill leukemia cells when infused. This is the first time that such supercharged cancer-fighting cells have been expanded in the lab for clinical use as a potent addition to a cord blood transplant.
Clinical trials and research programs are already in the works in melanoma, AML, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, multiple myeloma, and brain, colorectal and pancreatic cancers. With your help, our experts can move quickly and refine their protocols with each new discovery and thus treat more patients.
By working closely with several of the disease-focused Moon Shots®, the ACT platform has pioneered the use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified natural killer (NK) cells for treating cancer. To learn more about this technology and its advantages, Cancer Frontline spoke with Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy and co-leader of the ACT platform.Learn more