Team Aims to Apply CAR T-Cell Therapy to Pancreatic Cancer


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Carl H. June, MD

Carl H. June, MD

Shelley L. Berger, PhD

Shelley L. Berger, PhD

E. John Wherry, PhD

E. John Wherry, PhD

STAND UP TO CANCER (SU2C) and Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research are supporting a new translational research team to explore how chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy can be applied to pancreatic cancer. The approach uses specially modified immune cells to find and destroy cancerous cells. A version of CAR T-cell therapy was recently endorsed by an advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of advanced leukemia. 

The SU2C–Lustgarten Foundation CAR T-cell translational research team is headed by three investigators at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine: Carl H. June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy; Shelley L. Berger, PhD, the Daniel S. Och University Professor; and E. John Wherry, PhD, Richard and Barbara Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Director, Institute for Immunology. 

The team will receive $2 million in funding, with $1 million coming from SU2C and $1 million coming from the Lustgarten Foundation. 

The study will focus in large part on epigenetics. Phase I clinical trials will help identify epigenetic changes that are common to patients who don’t respond to immunotherapy, compared with those who do. 

“We will investigate CAR T-cell therapy for pancreatic cancer in combination with analysis of the epigenetics of patients who respond to the treatment as well as those who fail to respond, with the goal of finding ways to increase the response rate and explore new therapies against this terrible disease,” Dr. June said. “Identification of mechanisms of resistance is the central question facing the field of immuno-oncology.” 

Another objective is to explore the use of CAR T cells that will target mesothelin, a protein that is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer. 

Other Pancreatic Teams 

THE SU2C–LUSTGARTEN FOUNDATION CAR T-cell translational research team is one of four SU2C-sponsored research teams addressing pancreatic cancer. In collaboration with the Lustgarten Foundation, SU2C and the American Association for Cancer Research (SU2C’s Scientific Partner) have initiated a review process in which all four teams come together on a semiannual basis to share their progress and data. 

David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD

David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD

“The fact that we are bringing four teams together twice a year is a sign of the enormous commitment by Stand Up To Cancer and its collaborators to new research in pancreatic cancer,” said David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center in Cold Spring Harbor, New York; a member of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee; and Research Director for the Lustgarten Foundation. “Given the dearth of treatment options, new approaches are desperately needed,” he said. ■



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