Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center today announced the official opening of a first-of-its-kind clinic dedicated to providing innovative immunotherapies for cancer patients in clinical trials.
The Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic, named in recognition of a family that has been deeply committed to the Hutch and its work to advance immunotherapy, will allow researchers to conduct twice as many immunotherapy trials in the next year in pursuit of speeding cures for cancer.
Patients will be able to receive the Hutch's novel immunotherapies for cancer at roughly double the capacity that existed before the 9,222-square-foot clinic opened. More importantly, intensive monitoring in this groundbreaking facility will enable researchers to better understand why some patients respond, where others do not, and to achieve the goal of developing the best curative approach to treatment for each individual patient.
"We and scientists worldwide have been working for decades to understand how to harness the power of the immune system," said Dr. Gary Gilliland, Fred Hutch's president and director. "Over the last few years we have taken what we have learned in the Hutch's research labs and started to produce experimental treatments that we now can test; this clinic should inspire hope that we will find cures for cancers once thought incurable."
The clinic features 15 patient care suites designed to accommodate a wide array of outpatient services, as well as offer ample space for family and friends who accompany patients. Since the "soft opening" on Oct. 10, there have been more than 188 patient visits to the clinic, located on the sixth floor of the main outpatient building of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. SCCA, which is Fred Hutch's clinical care partner, is based on the Hutch campus in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. Fred Hutch will celebrate a grand opening of the clinic on Dec. 12 with a scientific symposium.
Much of the focus at the new clinic is on therapies involving T cells, which play a central role in the immune system. Hutch scientists have been at the forefront of genetically modifying these cells so that they will more effectively target cancers. Staff at the clinic will take these immune cells from a patient, have the cells specially engineered in a nearby Hutch cell-processing facility, and then re-infuse them to attack the patient's cancer.
The Hutch's genetically engineered T-cell products differ from those being tested at most other major research centers. One example is with the approach to T cells programmed to carry a synthetic molecule known as a CAR, or chimeric antigen receptor, which enables the T cells to target and eliminate cancer cells. While a number of institutions produce CAR T cells, the Hutch was the first center where nonessential immune cells are removed, resulting in a product with a defined ratio of engineered helper and killer T cells. This approach increases the growth of cancer-fighting cells in the patient after infusion and potentially decreases side effects, since lower doses of T cells are needed. Hutch scientists are also making other types of genetic modifications to T cells for cancer immunotherapy. Furthermore, Hutch scientists are exploring the value of combining CAR T cells with other immunotherapies.
With the new clinic, the Hutch anticipates conducting about 12 immunotherapy trials in 2017, up from five trials running in 2016. There are plans to open four trials in the immunotherapy clinic for patients with types of solid tumors that have not previously been treated with cellular immunotherapy.
Researchers say the clinic will focus on early-stage trials and will build on the recently published results showing high remission rates in some leukemias and a 50 percent remission rate in refractory lymphoma patients using CAR T cells. This will enable them to test new treatment approaches for a wider range of cancers, including some being tested in humans for the very first time. They'll be able to collect more extensive samples to learn from and gather data more quickly.
Team members collect the samples and data needed to evaluate how the engineered T cells are functioning and whether the cancer cells are surviving. The clinic has a separate research lab where specimens are received, processed and stored before being distributed to Fred Hutch labs. Proximity to core research facilities allows for faster delivery and faster analyses of these materials, which may lead to new questions to bring back to the lab.
Dr. David Maloney, Fred Hutch's first medical director of Cellular Immunotherapy, is medical director of the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic. He also holds the Leonard and Norma Klorfine Endowed Chair for Clinical Research. The clinic has a team-based model of care tailored for immunotherapy patients' unique needs and is staffed by physician-scientists who are experts in these emerging therapies.
"Seeing patients always gives you perspective on the disease you're treating," said Dr. Maloney. "I view oncology as more than just a snapshot, but managing challenges with cancer over a long period of time."
Fred Hutch chose to name the center after the Bezos family to recognize their generosity through the name of the clinic, said Dr. Gilliland. The clinic is a public sign of the partners' shared commitment to groundbreaking, lifesaving science and serves as a daily source of encouragement to the physicians, staff, patients and their families at the clinic.
The rapid growth in Hutch-based immunotherapy trials, which prompted the creation of the new clinic, could not have occurred without the Bezos family's generosity and the support of the many people who joined them. Their collective contributions covered research costs that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to fund through other mechanisms.
The clinic was made possible by support from SCCA and Juno Therapeutics, a Seattle-based biotech company focused on developing cellular immunotherapies aimed at curing a broad range of cancers. Fred Hutch has licensed to Juno intellectual property for potential treatments that the company seeks to commercialize. The Hutch joined with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Seattle Children's to launch the company in December 2013.
The Hutch's contributions to the field of immunotherapy can be traced back to its work on bone marrow transplantation, pioneered by Fred Hutch's Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who earned a Nobel Prize in 1990. This research led to the first definitive and reproducible example of the human immune system's power to cure cancer: Hutch scientists discovered that healthy donated immune cells, once engrafted, could recognize the patient's cancer cells as foreign and attack them. Ever since, Fred Hutch has been a leader in immunotherapy, tapping into the immune system to boost survival rates for patients with leukemia and other blood cancers and demonstrating the promise of immunotherapy for treating many other cancers.
Recent Hutch advances in the area of T-cell therapy include:
•The development of a CAR T-cell therapy that has so far shown promising results in early-phase clinical trials, including remission rates of over 90 percent for patients with certain advanced blood cancers
•The development of TCR, or T-cell receptor, therapies for certain patients with acute myeloid leukemia, non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma that are now in clinical trials; TCR therapies for pancreatic and ovarian cancers are currently in preclinical development
•The development and clinical testing of adoptive T-cell therapies for patients with certain sarcomas as well as for patients with Merkel cell carcinoma; the latter involved the first use of T cells that target a portion of the virus responsible for the cancer's development
Drs. Gilliland and Maloney announced the opening of the new clinic as featured guests at today's meeting of the National Press Club Newsmaker series in Washington, D.C.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center