Accidental T-cell Discovery Represents “A New Frontier” in Cancer Treatment

While it has not yet been tested in patients, researchers say an accidental T-cell discovery represents “an exciting new frontier” in cancer treatment.

A team of researchers in the United Kingdom discovered a new type of immune cell, also called a T-cell, that recognizes and kills most cancers. The discovery is huge as it could offer new treatments for a range of different cancers.

T-cells are an important factor in several new and emerging areas of cancer treatment technology. Some biotech and pharmaceutical companies are well suited to adapt solutions since they are already developing new treatments including AstraZeneca plc (NYSE: AZN), Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS) and Can-Fite Biopharma Ltd. (AMEX: CANF).

The T-cell is also the key for the lead product from Oncolytics Biotech Inc., (NASDAQ: ONCY) (TSX: ONC), a development stage biotech company working on an immuno-oncology virus called pelareorep. Pelareorep is a safe and well-tolerated experimental drug that bolsters the power of T-cells fighting cancer.

How the Technology Works

Here’s how it works: cancer grows in our bodies when our immune systems do not recognize tumors as foreign or a threat. The cancer tells our immune system and T-cells to leave the tumor alone instead of directly attacking it. Immunotherapies - which include checkpoint inhibitors - encourage our immune systems to recognize and kill cancer. But as low as 1 in 5 patients respond to checkpoint inhibitors.

That’s where Oncolytics Biotech’s pelareorep comes in. Pelareorep has the potential ability to increase the percentage of patients who respond to immunotherapy. It is being studied now for potential combination with Opdivo® from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Roche’s Tecentriq®, Pfizer’s and Merck KGaA’s Bavencio®, as well as Merck’s Keytruda®.

Oncolytics currently has two main focuses. First, it is working is to obtain regulatory approval for pelareorep as quickly as possible. Second, it wants to expand pelareorep into commercially valuable new treatment areas with pharmaceutical partners.

The company is engaged in four ongoing studies now with Pfizer/Merck KGaA, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and Roche. These studies involve combinations with checkpoint inhibitors for the treatment of breast cancer, multiple myeloma, and pancreatic cancer.

News of the Accidental Discovery

In January, the peer-reviewed journal Nature Immunology published the findings from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. An article about the study and its implications also appeared in, a Massillon, Ohio newspaper.

The Cardiff University discovery has not yet been tested in patients, but study author Andrew Sewell called it “an exciting new frontier.”

“We hope this new (T-cell receptor) may provide us with a different route to target and destroy a wide range of cancers in all individuals,” he said in a statement.

The study is getting attention from cancer experts. Dr. Marcel van den Brink, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was cautiously optimistic, calling the discovery “a very nice step forward.” Van den Brink emphasized, though, that more work is needed before determining whether the research could lead to new treatments.

“It’s very early in the process to figure out if this pathway, if these types of T-cells, really could be used as a way to control cancer,” van den Brink said.

For years, cancer patients and physicians have relied on surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to treat cancer. Immunotherapy is only a few years old, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Adoptive cell transfer relies on “collecting and using patients’ own immune cells to treat their cancer,” the institute says. One type of immunotherapy, CAR T-cell therapy, shows promise. The FDA has approved limited use of CAR T-cell therapy, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The Cardiff discovery is similar, but researchers hope it could eventually apply to an even broader range of cancers.

The Specifics of the New T-Cell Concept

The new t-cell discovery requires doctors to remove patients’ T-cells, genetically modify them and return them to patients’ blood in order to attack cancer cells. The difficulty is the molecular makeup of cancer cells varies from person to person. The T-cells don’t recognize every configuration. However, the Cardiff research unveiled a unique receptor that is identical in patients.

During lab testing, the team says the T-cells were able to kill lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney, and cervical cancer cells. The T-cells did not destroy healthy cells.

More testing is needed, van den Brink said.

Still, the overall field of studying how T-cells kill cancer cells has been among the most promising areas of cancer research in recent years, he said. It could only be a matter of years before determining if the research will lead to results in patients given how growing of a field it is, he said.

Companies are searching for effective means to treat cancers and this new technology will certainly be high on their radar. This is especially true for innovative manufacturers and developers that include:

AstraZeneca plc discovers, develops, and commercializes prescription medicines in the areas of oncology, cardiovascular, renal and metabolism, respiratory, autoimmunity, infection, neuroscience, and gastroenterology worldwide. The company has announced said Monday that it will discontinue the trial for the drug Epanova following a recommendation from an independent data-monitoring committee. The company said it has decided to close the phase three trial for the drug due to its low likelihood of demonstrating a benefit to patients with mixed dyslipidaemia who are at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Novartis AG researches, develops, manufactures, and markets healthcare products worldwide. The company's Innovative Medicines segment offers prescription medicines for patients and healthcare providers. It also provides ophthalmology, neuroscience, immunology, hepatology and dermatology, respiratory, cardio-metabolic, and established medicine products. Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, just reported its sales are up nine per cent in constant currencies as it reaped the rewards from newer medicines, including a gene therapy that is one of the world’s most expensive treatments. 

Can-Fite Biopharma Ltd. develops treatments for autoimmune inflammatory diseases and cancer. The company's liver cancer study of the drug namodenoson was recently selected by the International Liver Cancer Association conference. Can-Fite announced new findings in its collaboration with Univo Pharmaceuticals characterizing the effects of cannabinoids on diseases mediated through the A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR). Joint research shows that certain cannabinoid-based formulations exert a highly potent beneficial effect on diseased cells by binding to A3AR, and these findings present new opportunities for the development of cannabinoids in the treatment of a variety of diseases in which there is an overexpression of A3AR. 

For a more about biotech treatments and companies providing solutions, check the report at USA News Group:

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