Are Cellular Therapies the New Frontier in Cancer Treatment?

By Jonesa Rodriguez - October 30, 2023

Cellular therapy harnesses the power of the body’s immune system to target and destroy tumor cells. Known as immunotherapy, Moffitt Cancer Center is an international leader in using this treatment for multiple cancers, including blood, lung and prostate cancers.

This innovative and promising path for cancer treatment and research was the highlight of Moffitt’s annual Research Innovation event in New York.

Moffitt President and CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu led a panel discussion on the latest in cell therapies and health equity.
Moffitt President and CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu led a panel discussion on the latest in cell therapies and health equity.

Moffitt President and CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu led a panel discussion on the latest in cell therapies and health equity.

Improving Quality of Life with CAR T-Cell Therapy 

Staying at the forefront of new treatments, the cancer center is continuing its track to become the cell therapy capital of the world. One way to achieve that goal is CAR T-cell therapy.

This treatment uses a genetically modified version of a patient’s own, immune system cells— specifically, the T cells—to target cancer cells. These cells normally target viruses, bacteria and other noncancerous invaders. However, researchers have found that T cells can be genetically modified to seek out cancer cells, which have specific proteins on their surface. This can help the T cells distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells.

Understanding and developing cellular therapies starts with research. During the annual event, Dr. Daniel Abate-Daga, an associate member of Moffitt’s Immunology Department, discussed how his team is focused on the development of T cell-based immunotherapies for cancer treatment and the translation of those findings into phase 1 clinical trials.

“We study T cells and how they interact with cancer cells and then apply that knowledge to turn those T cells into cancer-fighting agents through genetic manipulation. This evidence-based approach allows us to tailor our therapies to the specific circumstances of each cancer type, thus enhancing both efficacy and safety,” Abate-Daga said.

On the clinical side, Dr. Ciara Freeman, assistant member in Moffitt’s Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Department, shared with the audience how CAR T has changed the scope of patient outcomes. She says it has allowed Moffitt to cure more patients than before with life threatening lymphomas and dramatically changed how the cancer center has treated patients with other blood cancers, like acute lymphoblastic leukemia and multiple myeloma.

The therapy also offers patients with multiple myeloma the opportunity to be off continuous treatment, completely changing their quality of life. 

“CAR T therapy has really changed what we can do for patients. We can achieve more deep and durable responses now, which we were unable to do with conventional approaches,” Freeman said. “It has provided new hope for patients who had limited options before.”

Reducing Health Disparities 

Cancer health disparities are prevalent in all forms of cancers, and minority groups are often disproportionally affected by the disease. Some cancers such as multiple myeloma are diagnosed in the Black community at higher rates and are known to have the worse outcomes.

During the panel discussion Moffitt expert Dr. Brandon Blue, assistant member in Moffitt’s Department of Malignant Hematology, explained how while CAR T cell therapy has seen success for patients with blood cancers, a disparity also exists: Those who are at a higher risk of getting the disease aren’t the ones receiving the treatment.

“With any new discovery there is a potential for development of a new disparity. We need to make sure these new treatments such CAR T are getting to all patients,” Blue said.

Blue is now focused on reducing health disparities and finding ways to ensure all patients can receive innovative treatment like CAR T at Moffitt.

Moffitt experts discuss the latest in cellular therapy at annual Research Innovation event.
Moffitt experts discuss the latest in cellular therapy at annual Research Innovation event.

Promising Clinical Trials with TIL Therapy 

The panelist wrapped up the discussion with the topic of tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, also known as TIL. In TIL, researchers take immune cells out of a tumor in a patient’s body. They then multiply these cells in a lab by the billions and infuse them back into the tumor. Now the patient has billions of reinforcements to fight the tumor. After having success in melanoma, it is being evaluated in other cancers, including lung cancer.

Dr. Ben Creelan, assistant member in Moffitt’s Thoracic Oncology Department, discussed the promising clinical trials with TIL therapy for lung cancer patients.

He highlighted the groundbreaking potential of this approach in revolutionizing the way Moffitt combats cancer, offering renewed hope to those battling lung cancer and paving the way for innovative therapies that harness the power of the patient's own immune system to fight the disease.

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