New research team to study CAR T-cell therapy for pancreatic cancer

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published August 4, 2017

Key Takeaways

A new translational research team—the Stand Up To Cancer-Lustgarten Foundation Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cell (CART) Translational Research Team—will explore how chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy may be applicable to pancreatic cancer, with support from Stand Up To Cancer and its scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

CAR T-cell therapy employs specially modified immune cells to find and destroy cancerous cells. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee recently endorsed a version of CAR T-cell therapy for the treatment of advanced leukemia. Yet the applicability of CAR T-cell therapy to solid tumors has proven difficult.

The research team will be led by Carl H. June, MD, the Richard W. Vague professor in immunotherapy; Shelley L. Berger, PhD, the Daniel S. Och university professor; and E. John Wherry, PhD, Richard and Barbara Schiffrin president’s distinguished professor of microbiology, and director, Institute for Immunology, all with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA. These investigators have been pioneers at the forefront of CAR T-cell therapy development.

“We will investigate CAR T-cell therapy for pancreatic cancer in combination with analysis of the epigenetics of patients who respond to the treatment as well as those who fail to respond, with the goal of finding ways to increase the response rate and explore new therapies against this terrible disease,” said Dr. June. “Identification of mechanisms of resistance is the central question facing the field of immuno-oncology.”

The team will conduct phase 1 clinical trials to help elucidate the epigenetic changes common in patients who do not respond to immunotherapy, as well as study the use of CAR T-cells targeting mesothelin, a protein overexpressed in patients with pancreatic cancer.

This translational research team is one of four SU2C-sponsored research teams addressing pancreatic cancer. A review process will occur semi-annually, where all four teams will come together to share their progress and data.

"The fact that we are bringing four teams together twice a year is a sign of the enormous commitment by Stand Up To Cancer and its collaborators to new research in pancreatic cancer," said David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, a member of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, and research director, Lustgarten Foundation. "Given the dearth of treatment options, new approaches are desperately needed. The teams learn from each other by sharing findings and discussing challenges as they pursue their particular lines of research," he said.

The other teams are:

  • SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team: Transforming Pancreatic Cancer to Treatable Disease, led by Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD; and Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
  • SU2C-Cancer Research UK-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team: Reprogramming of Transcriptional Circuitry to Control Pancreatic Cancer, led by Daniel D. Von Hoff, MD, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Phoenix, AZ; Ronald M. Evans, PhD, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA; and Gerard I. Evan, PhD, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, UK.
  • SU2C-National Science Foundation-Lustgarten Foundation-V Foundation Convergence Team: Liberating T-cell Mediated Immunity to Pancreatic Cancer, led by Jeffrey A. Drebin, MD, PhD, chairman, department of surgery, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, NY.
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