New clinical trial harnesses the power of the immune system to fight brain cancers


Already pioneers in the use of immunotherapy, City of Hope researchers are now testing the bold approach to cancer treatment against one of medicine’s biggest challenges: brain cancer. This month, they will launch a clinical trial using patients’ own modified T cells to fight advanced brain tumours.

One of but a few centres in the United States offering human studies in chimeric antigen receptor or CAR–T cell therapy, City of Hope (California, USA) is the only centre investigating CAR-T cells in injection form administered directly to brain tumours. In this first-in-humans study, patients with advanced brain tumours will receive injections—directly at the tumour site—of immune cells genetically modified to recognise certain markers on cancer cells.

“The data from our preclinical studies makes us confident that this treatment has the potential to be very powerful and last longer than previous attempts at immunotherapy for brain cancer,” said Behnam Badie, chief of neurosurgery at City of Hope. “This could take the treatment of brain tumours to the next level, and open up a new avenue of treatment to patients who badly need it.”

The safety trial will evaluate the therapy in patients with inoperable glioblastomas and advanced gliomas and in those who have had their tumours surgically removed. The goal is to determine a safe therapeutic dose.

City of Hope has been offering CAR-T cell immunotherapy in clinical trials for several blood cancers. This trial will extend the exciting therapeutic approach to the fight against solid tumours.

T cells are cells in the immune system that recognise threats to the body, then mount an attack. Because cancer can hide from the immune system, CAR-T cell therapy modifies a patient’s T cells to recognise cancer cells. First, a sample of a patient’s T cells are extracted then genetically modified to recognise receptors on cancer cells.

This City of Hope trial will use a type of T cell known as memory T cells, meaning they replicate in the body and “remember” diseases they have fought previously. These memory cells give rise to “soldier” T cells that fight disease. The hope is that the immune system will mount an attack on the existing cancer—then do the same should the cancer recur.

The CAR-T cell research is overseen by Christine Brown, associate director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory, and Stephen J Forman, Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.

“CAR-T cell therapy has significant potential to fight not just blood and bone marrow cancers, but a wide range of diseases for which patients need better treatment,” Forman said. “City of Hope is committed to maximising the potential of this revolutionary therapy for the sake of patients here and around the world.”

The research is being funded through grants from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the Gateway for Cancer Research Foundation.