Cancer patients in UKE undergoing new cell therapy

Genetically modified immune cells attacks patient's tumour
17 February 2020

Twenty cancer patients at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf have successfully undergone CAR-T cell therapy that use genetically modified immune cells to attack the tumor, a press release said Tuesday (January 28, 2020). Launched last May, the therapy has been approved for critically ill patients* with blood and lymph gland cancer for which the previous therapy methods had not been successful.

Impressive results

Some patients’ tumours have either regressed or disappeared completely. A clinical study with another genetic engineering procedure, CRISPR/Cas9 gene scissors, which is intended to treat lymphoma patients, will begin shortly. As part of CAR-T cell therapy, healthy immune cells or so-called T cells are taken from the patient and genetically manipulated in the laboratory. A molecule of the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) is introduced into the T-cells with the help of a virus. When the cells return, the molecule on the surface of the immune cells recognises the patient’s tumour cells and destroys them. However, this type of therapy is highly complex and limited to a small group of patients at present.

Prof. Dr. Nicolaus Kröger, Director of the Interdisciplinary Clinic for Stem Cell Transplantation at UKE, said: “Cell therapy can be life-saving for patients with advanced lymphomas or acute lymphatic leukaemia. Although we caution against overly high and hasty expectations, results are now available with two-year survival rates of up to 66 per cent. This is a huge step forward for patients who previously had no prospect of successful therapy.”

More studies planned

Constantly improving this new cell therapy is likely to lead to further progress and will combine individualized and targeted therapy. The UKE is the only German hospital taking part in the international clinical study on the CRISPR/Cas9 gene scissors. Patients with advanced lymphoma are being treated in hospitals in Australia and the U.S. in the hope of helping patients with other types of cancers in future.