Reported by: Dr. Venkat S.Karra, Ph.D.
Last August, UPenn scientists announced the dramatic results of a tiny clinical trial of their immunotherapy approach, describing long-lasting remissions in leukaemia patients for whom standard therapies had stopped working. Trials are also underway for other leukaemias and for lymphoma, mesothelioma, myeloma and neuroblastoma, according to the university.
The therapy developed by UPenn’s Carl June is complicated. Vaccines prompt a patient’s immune system to attack dangerous cells through an approach, called chimeric-antigen-receptor immunotherapy – a genetically redesigned immune cells for a more powerful attack. In this therapy first, blood is collected from leukaemia patients and exposed to substances that activate T cells, powerful cells that launch and coordinate immune attacks. Next, the T cells are genetically modified to recognize and attack leukaemia cells. Finally, the altered cells are returned to the patient, where they are expected to proliferate until the cancer cells are gone.
Drug giant Novartis is making a multimillion dollar bet that a patient’s immune system can be cancer’s worst enemy. It is teaming up with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) in Philadelphia to develop and manufacture cancer immunotherapies.
In the US$20-million collaboration, announced today, Novartis, which is based in Basel, Switzerland, will get exclusive worldwide rights to these technologies.