$10.7 million has been granted to the Abramson Cancer Center, located within the University of Pennsylvania, by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Researchers will use the funding to evaluate treatment methods for lung cancers and mesothelioma in the hope of finding an innovative new cure.
Investing in CAR T Cell Therapy
The NCI’s latest grant will fund an investigation by the Translational Center of Excellence for Lung Cancer Immunology on the Abramson Cancer Center to improve the efficacy of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, which researchers believe can target solid tumors and help to shrink and kill them.
CAR T cell therapy is a treatment that utilizes a patient’s T cells—cells that support the immune system—and equips them to attack cancer cells. The treatment targets the cancer cells directly without damaging surrounding healthy cells, unlike chemotherapy and radiation. To do this, CAR T cells must be grown in a lab and infused into a patient’s body.
This procedure has revolutionized the treatment of bone marrow cancers and leukemia, but it has not yet been tested on mesothelioma patients.
About the Study
The impressive $10.7 million grant will be used over a 5-year period to allow doctors to focus on the abilities of CAR T cells. One of the purposes of the study is to determine whether other immune cells, such as dendritic cells and T cells, can also be stimulated to respond against tumors. This is called the ‘bystander effect.’
The new study will be conducted in 3 stages:
- Enlist Patients in a Clinical Trial: Once patients are enlisted, the clinical trial will be undertaken in collaboration with Novartis (a pharmaceutical researcher) through future tests are likely to be performed by the university solely.
- Monitor Results in Mesothelioma Patients: The second part of the study will monitor CAR T cells and their results in those diagnosed with mesothelioma. Researchers will track how long the CAR T cells persist and whether or not different T cell responses can be activated.
- Research New CAR Combination Therapies: The third section of the study will look at research methods to enhance the effectiveness of CARs in animal models. The grant will help to fund ways of mixing different therapies with CARs to boost efficiency and attack the tumors that the CAR T cells cannot reach.
The principal investigator of the grant, Dr. Steven M. Albelda, says:
“Although CAR T cells have revolutionized the treatment of leukemia and bone marrow cancers, we have not yet had the same success in treating solid tumors like lung cancer. The goal of this program project is to solve this problem, and we’re grateful to the NCI for supporting our efforts to expand this approach to more patients around the world.”
Mesothelioma Funding for Treatment Research
This grant comes as a much-welcomed gift to those in the mesothelioma field. As mesothelioma is such a rare disease, it receives very little funding compared to other more prevalent cancers, like lung or breast. Due to the complexity and rarity of the disease, there is an urgent need to raise more money to find a cure for mesothelioma.
The Department of Defence was among the first to branch into mesothelioma funding and research in 2008 when they awarded $2.4 million to Dr. Courtney Broddus for her work in the mesothelioma field.
The NCI has been known to regularly invest in mesothelioma funding for clinical trials, though the amounts are nowhere near that of other cancers. From 2004-2007, the NCI invested less than $6 million into mesothelioma research, which is 0.1% of its annual budget.
This new grant is the most substantial funding of its kind for lung cancers and mesothelioma. It sheds a positive light on the development of new procedures. Researchers hope that, with access to the funds, they will be able to test the CAR T treatment, conduct several clinical trials and uncover a new, less invasive way of treating mesothelioma.
The $10.7 million grant gives hope to all mesothelioma victims and their families who are coping with this debilitating disease. At present, there is no cure for mesothelioma, but doctors hope that—thanks to the new NCI mesothelioma funding—there will be a bright future for those diagnosed with mesothelioma.