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Archive for the ‘Circulating Tumor Cells (CTC)’ Category


Brain surgeons’ research prompts new approach to cancer treatment

 

Reporter: Alex Crystal

 

UPDATED on 5/22/2019

For treating high-grade gliomas, an aggressive brain cancer, the combination therapy of experimental agents Toca 511 [immunotherapy] and Toca FC [chemotherapy] failed against chemotherapy or Avastin to show extended survival

  • Tocagen said Tuesday its brain cancer trial has not been able to show so far that a combination therapy of experimental agents Toca 511 and Toca FC extended survival when compared with chemotherapy or Avastin. The announcement was based on an interim analysis and the study will proceed to a final readout later this year.
  • Investors took the announcement as a sign that the trial is likely to fail, as shares fell 35% Wednesday to a record low. SVB Leerink analyst Daina Graybosch raised questions about the biological effect of the combination therapy as well as earlier-stage trial designs that Tocagen used to justify moving swiftly into a pivotal trial.
  • Toca 511, an immunotherapy, and Toca FC, a chemotherapy, aim to treat high-grade gliomas, an aggressive brain cancer. In the recurrent patients Tocagen hopes to treat, average survival is no more than about a year.

SOURCE

https://www.biopharmadive.com/news/tocagen-brain-cancer-trial-continues-stock-drop/555360/

 

Brain surgeons turn to basic science to fight childhood brain cancer @Stanford Medical School

By Krista Conger

 

Residents Teresa and Jamie Purzner stepped away from Neurosurgery to focus on research of medulloblastoma. The pair spent six years researching the cause of brain tumors before publishing their findings. They discovered a phosphate-adding protein called CK2 linked to the growth of this type of cancer. Afterword, they applied this finding by putting a CK2 inhibitor in mice implanted with medulloblastoma cells. After successful trials on animals, the duo combined efforts with the Stanford SPARK program to begin the development of drugs. Their efforts were rewarded and the pair went ahead with phase 1-2 clinical trials of the only known CK2 inhibitor, CX-4945. It is yet to be seen how successful their efforts will be in treating children with hedgehog-dependent medulloblastoma, but this approach opens up an entirely new and promising field of research.

SOURCE

http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2019/05/brain-surgeons-turn-to-basic-science-to-fight-childhood-brain-cancer.html

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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

RNA plays various roles in determining how the information in our genes drives cell behavior. One of its roles is to carry information encoded by our genes from the cell nucleus to the rest of the cell where it can be acted on by other cell components. Rresearchers have now defined how RNA also participates in transmitting information outside cells, known as extracellular RNA or exRNA. This new role of RNA in cell-to-cell communication has led to new discoveries of potential disease biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Cells using RNA to talk to each other is a significant shift in the general thought process about RNA biology.

 

Researchers explored basic exRNA biology, including how exRNA molecules and their transport packages (or carriers) were made, how they were expelled by producer cells and taken up by target cells, and what the exRNA molecules did when they got to their destination. They encountered surprising complexity both in the types of carriers that transport exRNA molecules between cells and in the different types of exRNA molecules associated with the carriers. The researchers had to be exceptionally creative in developing molecular and data-centric tools to begin making sense of the complexity, and found that the type of carrier affected how exRNA messages were sent and received.

 

As couriers of information between cells, exRNA molecules and their carriers give researchers an opportunity to intercept exRNA messages to see if they are associated with disease. If scientists could change or engineer designer exRNA messages, it may be a new way to treat disease. The researchers identified potential exRNA biomarkers for nearly 30 diseases including cardiovascular disease, diseases of the brain and central nervous system, pregnancy complications, glaucoma, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and multiple types of cancer.

 

As for example some researchers found that exRNA in urine showed promise as a biomarker of muscular dystrophy where current studies rely on markers obtained through painful muscle biopsies. Some other researchers laid the groundwork for exRNA as therapeutics with preliminary studies demonstrating how researchers might load exRNA molecules into suitable carriers and target carriers to intended recipient cells, and determining whether engineered carriers could have adverse side effects. Scientists engineered carriers with designer RNA messages to target lab-grown breast cancer cells displaying a certain protein on their surface. In an animal model of breast cancer with the cell surface protein, the researchers showed a reduction in tumor growth after engineered carriers deposited their RNA cargo.

 

Other than the above research work the scientists also created a catalog of exRNA molecules found in human biofluids like plasma, saliva and urine. They analyzed over 50,000 samples from over 2000 donors, generating exRNA profiles for 13 biofluids. This included over 1000 exRNA profiles from healthy volunteers. The researchers found that exRNA profiles varied greatly among healthy individuals depending on characteristics like age and environmental factors like exercise. This means that exRNA profiles can give important and detailed information about health and disease, but careful comparisons need to be made with exRNA data generated from people with similar characteristics.

 

Next the researchers will develop tools to efficiently and reproducibly isolate, identify and analyze different carrier types and their exRNA cargos and allow analysis of one carrier and its cargo at a time. These tools will be shared with the research community to fill gaps in knowledge generated till now and to continue to move this field forward.

 

References:

 

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/scientists-explore-new-roles-rna

 

https://www.cell.com/consortium/exRNA

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606120230.htm

 

https://www.pasteur.fr/en/multiple-roles-rnas

 

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/rna-functions-352

 

https://www.umassmed.edu/rti/biology/role-of-rna-in-biology/

 

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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Gender of a person can affect the kinds of cancer-causing mutations they develop, according to a genomic analysis spanning nearly 2,000 tumours and 28 types of cancer. The results show striking differences in the cancer-causing mutations found in people who are biologically male versus those who are biologically female — not only in the number of mutations lurking in their tumours, but also in the kinds of mutations found there.

 

Liver tumours from women were more likely to carry mutations caused by a faulty system of DNA mending called mismatch repair, for instance. And men with any type of cancer were more likely to exhibit DNA changes thought to be linked to a process that the body uses to repair DNA with two broken strands. These biases could point researchers to key biological differences in how tumours develop and evolve across sexes.

 

The data add to a growing realization that sex is important in cancer, and not only because of lifestyle differences. Lung and liver cancer, for example, are more common in men than in women — even after researchers control for disparities in smoking or alcohol consumption. The source of that bias, however, has remained unclear.

In 2014, the US National Institutes of Health began encouraging researchers to consider sex differences in preclinical research by, for example, including female animals and cell lines from women in their studies. And some studies have since found sex-linked biases in the frequency of mutations in protein-coding genes in certain cancer types, including some brain cancers and advanced melanoma.

 

But the present study is the most comprehensive study of sex differences in tumour genomes so far. It looks at mutations not only in genes that code for proteins, but also in the vast expanses of DNA that have other functions, such as controlling when genes are turned on or off. The study also compares male and female genomes across many different cancers, which can allow researchers to pick up on additional patterns of DNA mutations, in part by increasing the sample sizes.

 

Researchers analysed full genome sequences gathered by the International Cancer Genome Consortium. They looked at differences in the frequency of 174 mutations known to drive cancer, and found that some of these mutations occurred more frequently in men than in women, and vice versa. When they looked more broadly at the loss or duplication of DNA segments in the genome, they found 4,285 sex-biased genes spread across 15 chromosomes.

 

There were also differences found when some mutations seemed to arise during tumour development, suggesting that some cancers follow different evolutionary paths in men and women. Researchers also looked at particular patterns of DNA changes. Such patterns can, in some cases, reflect the source of the mutation. Tobacco smoke, for example, leaves behind a particular signature in the DNA.

 

Taken together, the results highlight the importance of accounting for sex, not only in clinical trials but also in preclinical studies. This could eventually allow researchers to pin down the sources of many of the differences found in this study. Liver cancer is roughly three times as common in men as in women in some populations, and its incidence is increasing in some countries. A better understanding of its aetiology may turn out to be really important for prevention strategies and treatments.

 

References:

 

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00562-7?utm_source=Nature+Briefing

 

https://www.nature.com/news/policy-nih-to-balance-sex-in-cell-and-animal-studies-1.15195

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26296643

 

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/507939v1

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25985759

 

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Immunoediting can be a constant defense in the cancer landscape


Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

There are many considerations in the cancer immunoediting landscape of defense and regulation in the cancer hallmark biology. The cancer hallmark biology in concert with key controls of the HLA compatibility affinity mechanisms are pivotal in architecting a unique patient-centric therapeutic application. Selection of random immune products including neoantigens, antigens, antibodies and other vital immune elements creates a high level of uncertainty and risk of undesirable immune reactions. Immunoediting is a constant process. The human innate and adaptive forces can either trigger favorable or unfavorable immunoediting features. Cancer is a multi-disease entity. There are multi-factorial initiators in a certain disease process. Namely, environmental exposures, viral and / or microbiome exposure disequilibrium, direct harm to DNA, poor immune adaptability, inherent risk and an individual’s own vibration rhythm in life.

 

When a human single cell is crippled (Deranged DNA) with mixed up molecular behavior that is the initiator of the problem. A once normal cell now transitioned into full threatening molecular time bomb. In the modeling and creation of a tumor it all begins with the singular molecular crisis and crippling of a normal human cell. At this point it is either chop suey (mixed bit responses) or a productive defensive and regulation response and posture of the immune system. Mixed bits of normal DNA, cancer-laden DNA, circulating tumor DNA, circulating normal cells, circulating tumor cells, circulating immune defense cells, circulating immune inflammatory cells forming a moiety of normal and a moiety of mess. The challenge is to scavenge the mess and amplify the normal.

 

Immunoediting is a primary push-button feature that is definitely required to be hit when it comes to initiating immune defenses against cancer and an adaptation in favor of regression. As mentioned before that the tumor microenvironment is a “mixed bit” moiety, which includes elements of the immune system that can defend against circulating cancer cells and tumor growth. Personalized (Precision-Based) cancer vaccines must become the primary form of treatment in this case. Current treatment regimens in conventional therapy destroy immune defenses and regulation and create more serious complications observed in tumor progression, metastasis and survival. Commonly resistance to chemotherapeutic agents is observed. These personalized treatments will be developed in concert with cancer hallmark analytics and immunocentrics affinity and selection mapping. This mapping will demonstrate molecular pathway interface and HLA compatibility and adaptation with patientcentricity.

References:

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/immunoediting-cancer-landscape-john-catanzaro/

 

https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(16)31609-9

 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309432057_Circulating_tumor_cell_clusters_What_we_know_and_what_we_expect_Review

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4190561/

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5840207/

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5593672/

 

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00414/full

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5593672/

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4190561/

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4388310/

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cancer-hallmark-analytics-omics-data-pathway-studio-review-catanzaro/

 

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Immunotherapy may help in glioblastoma survival


Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Glioblastoma is the most common primary malignant brain tumor in adults and is associated with poor survival. But, in a glimmer of hope, a recent study found that a drug designed to unleash the immune system helped some patients live longer. Glioblastoma powerfully suppresses the immune system, both at the site of the cancer and throughout the body, which has made it difficult to find effective treatments. Such tumors are complex and differ widely in their behavior and characteristics.

 

A small randomized, multi-institution clinical trial was conducted and led by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles involved patients who had a recurrence of glioblastoma, the most common central nervous system cancer. The aim was to evaluate immune responses and survival following neoadjuvant and/or adjuvant therapy with pembrolizumab (checkpoint inhibitor) in 35 patients with recurrent, surgically resectable glioblastoma. Patients who were randomized to receive neoadjuvant pembrolizumab, with continued adjuvant therapy following surgery, had significantly extended overall survival compared to patients that were randomized to receive adjuvant, post-surgical programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) blockade alone.

 

Neoadjuvant PD-1 blockade was associated with upregulation of T cell– and interferon-γ-related gene expression, but downregulation of cell-cycle-related gene expression within the tumor, which was not seen in patients that received adjuvant therapy alone. Focal induction of programmed death-ligand 1 in the tumor microenvironment, enhanced clonal expansion of T cells, decreased PD-1 expression on peripheral blood T cells and a decreasing monocytic population was observed more frequently in the neoadjuvant group than in patients treated only in the adjuvant setting. These findings suggest that the neoadjuvant administration of PD-1 blockade enhanced both the local and systemic antitumor immune response and may represent a more efficacious approach to the treatment of this uniformly lethal brain tumor.

 

Immunotherapy has not proved to be effective against glioblastoma. This small clinical trial explored the effect of PD-1 blockade on recurrent glioblastoma in relation to the timing of administration. A total of 35 patients undergoing resection of recurrent disease were randomized to either neoadjuvant or adjuvant pembrolizumab, and surgical specimens were compared between the two groups. Interestingly, the tumoral gene expression signature varied between the two groups, such that those who received neoadjuvant pembrolizumab displayed an INF-γ gene signature suggestive of T-cell activation as well as suppression of cell-cycle signaling, possibly consistent with growth arrest. Although the study was not powered for efficacy, the group found an increase in overall survival in patients receiving neoadjuvant pembrolizumab compared with adjuvant pembrolizumab of 13.7 months versus 7.5 months, respectively.

 

In this small pilot study, neoadjuvant PD-1 blockade followed by surgical resection was associated with intratumoral T-cell activation and inhibition of tumor growth as well as longer survival. How the drug works in glioblastoma has not been totally established. The researchers speculated that giving the drug before surgery prompted T-cells within the tumor, which had been impaired, to attack the cancer and extend lives. The drug didn’t spur such anti-cancer activity after the surgery because those T-cells were removed along with the tumor. The results are very important and very promising but would need to be validated in much larger trials.

 

References:

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/02/11/immunotherapy-may-help-patients-with-kind-cancer-that-killed-john-mccain/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e1b2e6fffccc

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30742122

 

https://www.practiceupdate.com/content/neoadjuvant-anti-pd-1-immunotherapy-promotes-immune-responses-in-recurrent-gbm/79742/37/12/1

 

https://www.esmo.org/Oncology-News/Neoadjuvant-PD-1-Blockade-in-Glioblastoma

 

https://neurosciencenews.com/immunotherapy-glioblastoma-cancer-10722/

 

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2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for contributions to Cancer Immunotherapy to James P. Allison, Ph.D., of the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas. Dr. Allison shares the prize with Tasuku Honjo, M.D., Ph.D., of Kyoto University Institute, Japan

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

 

See

Immune System Stimulants: Articles of Note @pharmaceuticalintelligence.com

Curators: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/05/01/immune-system-stimulants-articles-of-note-pharmaceuticalintelligence-com/

 

Immune-Oncology Molecules In Development & Articles on Topic in @pharmaceuticalintelligence.com

Curators: Stephen J Williams, PhD and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/01/11/articles-on-immune-oncology-molecules-in-development-pharmaceuticalintelligence-com/

 

 

Monday, October 1, 2018

NIH grantees win 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to National Institutes of Health grantee James P. Allison, Ph.D., of the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas. Dr. Allison shares the prize with Tasuku Honjo, M.D., Ph.D., of Kyoto University Institute, Japan, for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said, “by stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells this year’s Nobel Laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”

Dr. Allison discovered that a particular protein (CTLA-4) acts as a braking system, preventing full activation of the immune system when a cancer is emerging. By delivering an antibody that blocks that protein, Allison showed the brakes could be released. The discovery has led to important developments in cancer drugs called checkpoint inhibitors and dramatic responses to previously untreatable cancers. Dr. Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action.

“Jim’s work was pivotal for cancer therapy by enlisting our own immune systems to launch an attack on cancer and arrest its development,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “NIH is proud to have supported this groundbreaking research.”

Dr. Allison has received continuous funding from NIH since 1979, receiving more than $13.7 million primarily from NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“This work has led to remarkably effective, sometime curative, therapy for patients with advanced cancer, who we were previously unable to help,” said NCI Director Ned Sharpless, M.D. “Their findings have ushered in the era of cancer immunotherapy, which along with surgery, radiation and cytotoxic chemotherapy, represents a ‘fourth modality’ for treating cancer. A further understanding of the biology underlying the immune system and cancer has the potential to help many more patients.”

“Dr. Allison’s elegant and groundbreaking work in basic immunology over four decades and its important applicability to cancer is a vivid demonstration of the critical nature of interdisciplinary biomedical research supported by NIH,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

SOURCE

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-grantees-win-2018-nobel-prize-physiology-or-medicine

 

Dr. Lev-Ari covered in person the following curated articles about James Allison, PhD since his days at University of California, Berkeley, including the prizes awarded prior to the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology.

 

2018 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research goes to NIH’s Dr. Rosenberg and fellow immunotherapy researchers James P. Allison, Ph.D., and Carl H. June, M.D.

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2018/08/15/2018-albany-medical-center-prize-in-medicine-and-biomedical-research-goes-to-nihs-dr-rosenberg-and-fellow-immunotherapy-researchers-james-p-allison-ph-d-and-carl-h-june-m-d/

 

Lectures by The 2017 Award Recipients of Warren Alpert Foundation Prize in Cancer Immunology, October 5, 2017, HMS, 77 Louis Paster, Boston

REAL TIME Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2017/09/08/lectures-by-the-2017-award-recipients-of-warren-alpert-foundation-prize-in-cancer-immunology-october-5-2017-hms-77-louis-paster-boston/

 

Cancer-free after immunotherapy treatment: Treating advanced colon cancer – targeting KRAS gene mutation by tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and Killer T-cells (NK)

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/12/08/cancer-free-after-immunotherapy-treatment-treating-advanced-colon-cancer-targeting-kras-gene-mutation-by-tumor-infiltrating-lymphocytes-tils-and-killer-t-cells-nk/

 

New Class of Immune System Stimulants: Cyclic Di-Nucleotides (CDN): Shrink Tumors and bolster Vaccines, re-arm the Immune System’s Natural Killer Cells, which attack Cancer Cells and Virus-infected Cells

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2016/04/24/new-class-of-immune-system-stimulants-cyclic-di-nucleotides-cdn-shrink-tumors-and-bolster-vaccines-re-arm-the-immune-systems-natural-killer-cells-which-attack-cancer-cells-and-virus-inf/

 

UC Berkeley research led to Nobel Prize-winning immunotherapy

Immunologist James P. Allison today shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for groundbreaking work he conducted on cancer immunotherapy at UC Berkeley during his 20 years as director of the campus’s Cancer Research Laboratory.

James Allison

James Allison, who for 20 years was a UC Berkeley immunologist conducting fundamental research on cancer, is now at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Now at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Allison shared the award with Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”

Allison, 70, conducted basic research on how the immune system – in particular, a cell called a T cell – fights infection. His discoveries led to a fundamentally new strategy for treating malignancies that unleashes the immune system to kill cancer cells. A monoclonal antibody therapy he pioneered was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 to treat malignant melanoma, and spawned several related therapies now being used against lung, prostate and other cancers.

“Because this approach targets immune cells rather than specific tumors, it holds great promise to thwart diverse cancers,” the Lasker Foundation wrote when it awarded Allison its 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.

Allison’s work has already benefited thousands of people with advanced melanoma, a disease that used to be invariably fatal within a year or so of diagnosis. The therapy he conceived has resulted in elimination of cancer in a significant fraction of patients for a decade and counting, and it appears likely that many of these people are cured.

“Targeted therapies don’t cure cancer, but immunotherapy is curative, which is why many consider it the biggest advance in a generation,” Allison said in a 2015 interview. “Clearly, immunotherapy now has taken its place along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as a reliable and objective way to treat cancer.”

“We are thrilled to see Jim’s work recognized by the Nobel Committee,” said Russell Vance, the current director of the Cancer Research Laboratory and a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology. “We congratulate him on this highly deserved honor. This award is a testament to the incredible impact that the fundamental research Jim conducted at Berkeley has had on the lives of cancer patients”

“I don’t know if I could have accomplished this work anywhere else than Berkeley,” Allison said. “There were a lot of smart people to work with, and it felt like we could do almost anything. I always tell people that it was one of the happiest times of my life, with the academic environment, the enthusiasm, the students, the faculty.”

In this video about UC Berkeley’s new Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI), Allison discusses his groundbreaking work on cancer immunotherapy.

In fact, Allison was instrumental in creating the research environment of the current Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley as well as the department’s division of immunology, in which he served stints as chair and division head during his time at Berkeley, said David Raulet, director of Berkeley’s Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI).

“His actions helped create the superb research environment here, which is so conducive to making the fundamental discoveries that will be the basis of the next generation of medical breakthroughs,” Raulet said.

Self vs. non-self

Allison joined the UC Berkeley faculty as a professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Cancer Research Laboratory in 1985. An immunologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Austin, he focused on a type of immune system cell called the T cell or T lymphocyte, which plays a key role in fighting off bacterial and viral infections as well as cancer.

Supercharging the immune system to cure disease: immunotherapy research at UC Berkeley. (UC Berkeley video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally)

At the time, most doctors and scientists believed that the immune system could not be exploited to fight cancer, because cancer cells look too much like the body’s own cells, and any attack against cancer cells would risk killing normal cells and creating serious side effects.

“The community of cancer biologists was not convinced that you could even use the immune system to alter cancer’s outcome, because cancer was too much like self,” said Matthew “Max” Krummel, who was a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow with Allison in the 1990s and is now a professor of pathology and a member of the joint immunology group at UCSF. “The dogma at the time was, ‘Don’t even bother.’ ”

“What was heady about the moment was that we didn’t really listen to the dogma, we just did it,” Krummel added. Allison, in particular, was a bit “irreverent, but in a productive way. He didn’t suffer fools easily.” This attitude rubbed off on the team.

Trying everything they could in mice to tweak the immune system, Krummel and Allison soon found that a protein receptor called CTLA-4 seemed to be holding T cells back, like a brake in a car.

Postdoctoral fellow Dana Leach then stepped in to see if blocking the receptor would unleash the immune system to actually attack a cancerous tumor. In a landmark paper published in Science in 1996, Allison, Leach and Krummel showed not only that antibodies against CTLA-4 released the brake and allowed the immune system to attack the tumors, but that the technique was effective enough to result in long-term disappearance of the tumors.

“When Dana showed me the results, I was really surprised,” Allison said. “It wasn’t that the anti-CTLA-4 antibodies slowed the tumors down. The tumors went away.”

After Allison himself replicated the experiment, “that’s when I said, OK, we’ve got something here.”

Checkpoint blockade

The discovery led to a concept called “checkpoint blockade.” This holds that the immune system has many checkpoints designed to prevent it from attacking the body’s own cells, which can lead to autoimmune disease. As a result, while attempts to rev up the immune system are like stepping on the gas, they won’t be effective unless you also release the brakes.

Allison in 1993

James Allison in 1993, when he was conducting research at UC Berkeley on a promising immunotherapy now reaching fruition. (Jane Scherr photo)

“The temporary activation of the immune system though ‘checkpoint blockade’ provides a window of opportunity during which the immune system is mobilized to attack and eliminate tumors,” Vance said.

Allison spent the next few years amassing data in mice to show that anti-CTLA-4 antibodies work, and then, in collaboration with a biotech firm called Medarex, developed human antibodies that showed promise in early clinical trials against melanoma and other cancers. The therapy was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2011 and approved by the FDA as ipilimumab (trade name Yervoy), which is now used to treat skin cancers that have metastasized or that cannot be removed surgically.

Meanwhile, Allison left UC Berkeley in 2004 for Memorial Sloan Kettering research center in New York to be closer to the drug companies shepherding his therapy through clinical trials, and to explore in more detail how checkpoint blockade works.

“Berkeley was my favorite place, and if I could have stayed there, I would have,” he said. “But my research got to the point where all the animal work showed that checkpoint blockade had a lot of potential in people, and working with patients at Berkeley wasn’t possible. There’s no hospital, no patients.”

Thanks to Allison’s doggedness, anti-CTLA-4 therapy is now an accepted therapy for cancer and it opened the floodgates for a slew of new immunotherapies, Krummel said. There now are several hundred ongoing clinical trials involving monoclonal antibodies to one or more receptors that inhibit T cell activity, sometimes combined with lower doses of standard chemotherapy.

Antibodies against one such receptor, PD-1, which Honjo discovered in 1992, have given especially impressive results. Allison’s initial findings can be credited for prompting researchers, including Allison himself, to carry out the studies that have demonstrated the potent anti-cancer effects of PD-1 antibodies. In 2015, the FDA approved anti-PD-1 therapy for malignant melanoma, and has since approved it for non-small-cell lung, gastric and several other cancers.

Science magazine named cancer immunotherapy its breakthrough of 2013 because that year, “clinical trials … cemented its potential in patients and swayed even the skeptics. The field hums with stories of lives extended: the woman with a grapefruit-size tumor in her lung from melanoma, alive and healthy 13 years later; the 6-year-old near death from leukemia, now in third grade and in remission; the man with metastatic kidney cancer whose disease continued fading away even after treatment stopped.”

Allison pursued more clinical trials for immunotherapy at Sloan-Kettering and then in 2012 returned to his native Texas.

Born in Alice, Texas, on Aug. 7, 1948, Allison earned a B.S. in microbiology in 1969 and a Ph.D. in biological science in 1973 from the University of Texas, Austin.

RELATED INFORMATION

SOURCE

http://news.berkeley.edu/2018/10/01/uc-berkeley-research-led-to-nobel-prize-winning-immunotherapy/

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Live Conference Coverage @Medcitynews Converge 2018 Philadelphia:Liquid Biopsy and Gene Testing vs Reimbursement Hurdles

9:25- 10:15 Liquid Biopsy and Gene Testing vs. Reimbursement Hurdles

Genetic testing, whether broad-scale or single gene-testing, is being ordered by an increasing number of oncologists, but in many cases, patients are left to pay for these expensive tests themselves. How can this dynamic be shifted? What can be learned from the success stories?

Moderator: Shoshannah Roth, Assistant Director of Health Technology Assessment and Information Services , ECRI Institute @Ecri_Institute
Speakers:
Rob Dumanois, Manager – reimbursement strategy, Thermo Fisher Scientific
Eugean Jiwanmall, Senior Research Analyst for Medical Policy & Technology Evaluation , Independence Blue Cross @IBX
Michael Nall, President and Chief Executive Officer, Biocept

 

Michael: Wide range of liquid biopsy services out there.  There are screening companies however they are young and need lots of data to develop pan diagnostic test.  Most of liquid biopsy is more for predictive analysis… especially therapeutic monitoring.  Sometimes solid biopsies are impossible , limited, or not always reliable due to metastasis or tough to biopsy tissues like lung.

Eugean:  Circulating tumor cells and ctDNA is the only FDA approved liquid biopsies.  However you choose then to evaluate the liquid biopsy, PCR NGS, FISH etc, helps determines what the reimbursement options are available.

Rob:  Adoption of reimbursement for liquid biopsy is moving faster in Europe than the US.  It is possible in US that there may be changes to the payment in one to two years though.

Michael:  China is adopting liquid biopsy rapidly.  Patients are demanding this in China.

Reimbursement

Eugean:  For IBX to make better decisions we need more clinical trials to correlate with treatment outcome.  Most of the major cancer networks, like NCCN, ASCO, CAP, just have recommendations and not approved guidelines at this point.  From his perspective with lung cancer NCCN just makes a suggestion with EGFR mutations however only the companion diagnostic is approved by FDA.

Michael:  Fine needle biopsies are usually needed by the pathologist anyway before they go to liquid biopsy as need to know the underlying mutations in the original tumor, it just is how it is done in most cancer centers.

Eugean:  Whatever the established way of doing things, you have to outperform the clinical results of the old method for adoption of a newer method.

Reimbursement issues have driven a need for more research into clinical validity and utility of predictive and therapeutic markers with regard to liquid biopsies.  However although many academic centers try to partner with Biocept Biocept has a limit of funds and must concentrate only on a few trials.  The different payers use different evidence based methods to evaluate liquid biopsy markers.  ECRI also has a database for LB markers using an evidence based criteria.  IBX does sees consistency among payers as far as decision and policy.

NGS in liquid biopsy

Rob: There is a path to coverage, especially through the FDA.  If you have a FDA cleared NGS test, it will be covered.  These are long and difficult paths to reimbursement for NGS but it is feasible. Medicare line of IBX covers this testing, however on the commercial side they can’t cover this.  @IBX: for colon only kras or nras has clinical utility and only a handful of other cancer related genes for other cancers.  For a companion diagnostic built into that Dx do the other markers in the panel cost too much?

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