University of Pennsylvania Scientists Receive ACGT Grant to Accelerate CAR T-Cell Clinical Trial for Prostate Cancer

Feb 03, 2020

Novel Gene Therapy Approach to Prostate Cancer Already Seeing Results in Clinical Trial and May Have Impact on Other Solid Tumor Cancers

STAMFORD, Conn. — A scientific team is developing a new CAR T-cell gene therapy treatment for advanced metastatic prostate cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) with a $500,000 grant from Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT).

The ACGT grant was awarded to Joseph Fraietta, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and a T-cell biologist with expertise in tumor immunology and translational medicine, and Naomi Haas, MD, director of the Prostate and Kidney Cancer Program, associate professor of medicine, and nationally renowned expert in the field of prostate and kidney cancer. The goal of the ACGT-funded study is to overcome prostate cancer’s stubborn resistance to CAR T-cell therapy, a therapy that has been successful in treating blood cancers. Drs. Fraietta and Haas are exploring approaches for re-engineering T-cells to enable them to induce safe, long-term remission for advanced, metastatic prostate cancer patients.

“The grant from ACGT will help us advance our clinical work in a very novel way,” said Dr. Fraietta. “If we can unlock the epigenetic code that controls the fate and function of T-cells, it could be a game changer.”

“The ACGT Scientific Advisory Council is impressed with the potential of this research team and their successful innovations in the use of T-cell therapy,” noted Kevin Honeycutt, CEO and president of ACGT. “Because Drs. Fraietta and Haas are building on direct results already achieved with patients, there may be less transition time required to get a promising new treatment into the clinic for prostate cancer patients. Plus, we believe this research could provide a tumor-attack roadmap to help fight other cancers, including lung, pancreatic, ovarian and brain.”

In the ACGT-funded study, Drs. Fraietta and Haas are going from the bedside back to the benchtop to employ new insight into how to better enable T-cells to battle cancer cells in solid tumors. Drs. Haas and Fraietta will explore the connection between nutrient availability and epigenetic programming, and how these factors influence the viability of T-cells and their anti-tumor functionality. This research builds on durable results being achieved by Dr. Haas in related prostate cancer clinical trials. In these trials, different doses of CAR T-cell gene therapies are being used to treat metastatic patients for whom traditional hormonal therapies, chemotherapies, radiation and surgery have failed.

“For so many years, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery were the traditional treatments for cancer. For prostate cancer, there’s also hormone therapy,” said Honeycutt. “Unfortunately, as the cancer progresses, it often stops responding to these traditional treatments. New cell and gene therapy approaches like the ones Drs. Fraietta and Haas are employing offer new hope to all cancer patients. ACGT has been dedicated to funding innovative science that harnesses the power of cell and gene therapy and transforms how cancer is treated. The work of Drs. Fraietta and Haas is a great example of this promise.”

ACGT has been instrumental in funding some of the decade’s most transformative research, including breakthroughs in the use of CAR T-cell gene therapy for leukemia by the University of Pennsylvania’s Carl H. June, MD. “Dr. June received his first ACGT grant in 2004 and a second in 2008, back when gene therapy was considered a risky proposition,” says Honeycutt. “Fast forward to today and the field has changed dramatically with major pharmaceutical companies and research institutions vying for the next big discovery using gene therapy or immunotherapy.”