Stand Up To Cancer creates Dream Team focused on finding therapies for T-cell lymphoma

Stand Up To Cancer announced here today the creation of an $8 million Dream Team of top scientists focused on finding therapies for T-cell lymphoma, a rare cancer of the blood and immune system, using chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to trigger the immune system to attack and destroy cancerous cells.

The SU2C Meg Vosburg T-Cell Lymphoma Dream Team: Tailoring CAR-based Immunotherapy Strategies to T-cell Lymphoma will be headed by Helen Heslop, MD, Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), with Gianpietro Dotti, MD, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), as co-leader. The team honors the memory of Meg Vosburg, a lifelong learner, educator, and humanitarian, who died from T-cell lymphoma in 2018 at the age of 51.

The announcement came at the annual SU2C Scientific Summit, a gathering of more than 400 scientists and SU2C supporters organized by the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C's Scientific Partner, and held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

The challenge in developing immunotherapy to treat T-cell lymphoma has been finding a therapy that attacks cancerous T cells without harming cells which are essential to the body's immune response.

"We're exploiting the potential of the immune system to cure T-cell lymphoma by genetically modifying immune system cells, called T cells, so they have new receptors that will allow them to recognize the lymphoma cells and kill them," Heslop said. "And we're evaluating several different targets and several different sorts of immune effector cells. It's a modular sort of system where we can hopefully combine the best from each different approach to produce a therapy that will improve outcomes in this patient population."

In addition, the team is working to modify the CAR-carrying cells so that they are not hindered by immune cells. This will help reduce the cancer and prepare patients for potential stem cell transplants to contain or cure the cancer.

CAR therapy is usually custom-built for each patient. The team is trying to find a way to develop CAR cells on an "off-the-shelf" basis so the therapy will be more available to patients and less expensive. The team is also working to identify biomarkers that will help track the effectiveness of the therapy, and is evaluating a novel small molecule which shows encouraging activity in T-cell lymphoma as a cytoreductive (size-reducing) regimen.

Heslop is Dan L Duncan chair and director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at BCM, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Texas Children's Hospital. She is a professor in the hematology-oncology section of the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at BCM in Houston and is also associate director for clinical research and leader of the Cancer Cell and Gene Therapy Program at Baylor's Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dotti is director of the immunotherapy program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UNC-CH.

T-cell lymphomas make up less than 15 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, and they tend to be difficult to treat because they arise in the cells that are supposed to fight disease, not cause it.

"We are proud to extend SU2C's work into T-cell lymphoma," said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, the Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist from MIT who serves as chair of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee. "The Dream Team's approach could bring a highly effective new treatment to what is now a relatively intractable disease."

Other scientists on the team include:

Baylor College of Medicine:

Malcolm K. Brenner, MD, PhD, investigator
Carlos Ramos, MD, investigator
Maksim Mamonkin, PhD, young investigator
LaQuisa Hill, MD, young investigator
Rayne Rouce, MD, young investigator
Natasha Lapteva, PhD, investigator

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:

Barbara Savoldo, MD, PhD, investigator
Anne Beaven, MD, investigator
Natalie Grover, MD, young investigator
Joel Parker, PhD, investigator
Paul Eldridge, PhD, investigator

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC)

Katy Rezvani, MD, PhD, Dream Team principal
Elizabeth J. Shpall, MD, investigator
May Daher, MD, young investigator

Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center (WFBHCCC):

Bayard Powell, MD, Dream Team principal

Timothy S. Pardee, MD PhD, investigator
Wei Zhang, PhD, investigator
Zanetta S. Lamar, MD, young investigator

Advocates

Patty Spears, UNC Lineberger Patient Research Advocacy Group.
Gustavo Ayala, MD, University of Texas in Houston; parent of a teenager with T-cell lymphoma.
Bambi Grilley, director of Clinical Research and Early Product Development at Cell and Gene Therapy at BCM.

Ruth Sorelle, retired journalist and survivor of NK-T cell lymphoma.

Cancer immunotherapy - enabling the body's immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells -- has had a tremendous impact on a wide range of cancers, including B-cell lymphomas. However, it has not yet been effective in lymphomas that involve T cells. The biggest problem is finding a therapy that can attack T cells that are cancerous while leaving normal T cells alone, since T cells are essential to the body's immune response.

The Dream Team will test therapeutic approaches that utilize cells to carry molecules known as CARs against different antigens that are found on the surface of cancerous T cells. Knowing the most effective combination of immune cell effectors and CARs will allow scientists to develop CAR-based therapeutics where the patient's own immune system can expand into armies of cancer-fighting cells.

"It's been just over a year since Meg's diagnosis," remarked her husband, Craig Vosburg, "and I'm excited to hear about the new ideas to help patients in the foreseeable future as a result of this Dream Team."

"Meg had a passion for making people's lives better, which she did through education and helping them find ways to pursue their dreams," he said. "What better way to continue doing that than by extending lives and someday finding a cure for future patients diagnosed with this difficult disease."

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