Immune system therapy shows wider promise against cancer
A treatment that helps the immune system fight deadly blood cancers is showing early signs of promise against some solid tumors, giving hope that this approach might be extended to more common cancers in the future.
The treatment, called CAR-T therapy, involves genetically modifying some of a patient’s own cells to help them recognize and attack cancer. Richard Carlstrand of Long Key, Fla., had it more than a year ago for mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs.
“We were going into unknown territories” to try this, he said, but now he shows no sign of cancer and “I couldn’t be happier.”
Results on his and other cases were discussed Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Atlanta.
The first CAR-T therapies were approved in 2017 for some leukemias and lymphomas.
After being altered in the lab, the modified immune system cells are returned to the patient through an IV, which puts them right where the cancer is – in the blood.
But that approach doesn’t work well if the cells have to travel far through the bloodstream to get to tumors in the lung, breast, colon or other places.
“Solid tumors are notorious for not letting the immune cells enter,” and not enough may make it in to have an effect, said Dr. Prasad Adusumilli of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
A bigger worry is that the proteins on solid tumor cells that these therapies target also are found on normal cells at lower levels, so the therapy might harm them, too.
Grants from the federal government and foundations paid for the work and a larger study is planned.