Year Funded: 2018-2021
For women battling advanced ovarian cancer who have completed at least two rounds of chemotherapy without results, Daniel J. Powell, Jr., PhD, and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (Philadelphia, Pa.) are offering new hope.
With funding from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), Dr. Powell is leading a phase I clinical trial, testing a new approach to T-cell therapy he hopes will achieve dramatic results. “There’s an old saying that I like,” says Powell. “All patients deserve an optimistic doctor.”
Unlike traditional chemotherapy and radiation, Dr. Powell uses an immunotherapy approach to helping women in dire circumstances. In other words, he uses genetic engineering to engage a patient’s existing immune system and enable it to recognize and destroy cancer.
Dr. Powell’s strategy expands on the powerful ACGT-funded CAR T immunotherapy protocols for blood cancers developed by fellow researcher and collaborator, Dr. Carl June. In this clinical trial, T cells are removed from a patient and genetically modified outside of the body to create killer T cells. These killer T cells are then reinserted to establish an offense against the disease and a defense against recurrence.
Finding the right targets (antigens) on solid tumors has been a major hurdle, as has keeping the engineered T cells alive in the body long enough to do their job. “In cancer research, we continue to invent and reinvent as part of the natural process,” says Powell, and with this clinical trial, Dr. Powell believes he finally may be able to overcome these obstacles.
“My greatest hope is that this trial will not only control tumors but mediate complete tumor eradication,” says Powell. The more than 20,000 U.S. women diagnosed annually with ovarian cancer likely have their fingers crossed, too.
“In cancer research, we continue to invent and reinvent as part of the natural process.”