LRF Grantee opens the first in-human clinical trial with a new approach to immunotherapy in patients with high risk B-Cell lymphoma who have undergone ASCT

Laurence Cooper, MD

   Unfortunately, conventional chemotherapy has limited potential to cure recurrent lymphomas. However, with the advent of biological therapies, such as infusing T cells, treatments can target disease employing mechanisms independent of chemotherapy and radiation. One promising approach to harnessing the tumor fighting ability of T cells is using gene therapy to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), an innovative approach currently being used by LRF grantee, Dr. Laurence Cooper of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

   As Dr. Cooper explains "with help from the Lymphoma Research Foundation we have developed a clinically-appealing approach to targeting lymphoma cells with a CAR, a new technology to genetically modify T cells, and a new method to efficiently grow large numbers of engineered T cells." This has resulted in the opening of the first human clinical trial in patients with high risk B-cell lymphoma who are undergoing autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT), the medical procedure in which stem cells are removed, stored and later given back to the same person.

   The importance of this trial lies in the limited treatment options that currently exist for patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) who relapse following ASCT. As Dr. Cooper explains, "we anticipate that the administration of tumor-specific genetically modified T cells after transplantation will prevent relapse. The results of this study will lay the foundation for next-generation protocols infusing T cells to help treat NHL before transplantation is needed."

   This trial, under the clinical direction of Dr. Partow Kebriaei, is currently open at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas and is still actively recruiting. "Patients have been enrolled and treated without toxicity. In the months to come we will learn if the infused T cells improve the outcome after autologous stem cell transplantation. We aim to complete the trial by the end of 2014," says Dr. Cooper.

Laurence Cooper, MD

   As an LRF Follicular Lymphoma Clinical Studies Award recipient, Dr. Cooper notes that the support of LRF "has enabled me to hire, train, and mentor some of the best scientific minds so we can interrogate cancer cells, study them at the cellular level, and strategize how to eliminate cancer using T cells. Our studies at the laboratory bench have been translated to clinical trials to determine if we can help patients with relapsed lymphoma." He further adds that LRF "support also enables me to collaborate with colleagues and attend conferences, which is necessary to further our research."

   Dr. Cooper acknowledges the role of LRF in contributing to the exciting developments toward eradicating lymphoma, "the Lymphoma Research Foundation has helped launch a new approach to the genetic modification of T cells and their human application. This is the shortest time a new gene therapy has been translated from the bench to the bedside. We have coupled this methodology with a new technique to growing large numbers of T cells on lawns or artificial feeder cells. These two platform technologies have lowered the cost and broadened our ability to infuse T cells expressing a chimeric antigen receptor in patients with lymphoma."

   Drawn to lymphoma research due to "scientific curiosity, empathy for patients, and a sense of service", Dr. Cooper feels that "treating patients with cancer is a privilege. We remember that our patients are fighting for their lives. Thus, we commit ourselves to helping our patients and their families to winning this fight." n

To learn more about the LRF research program, or the research and investigators supported by the Foundation please click here.