Biotech Tests Cell Therapy For Cancer

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After the second round of chemotherapy was unsuccessful, physicians gave Dan Symes news he only had a few more months to live. Symes was diagnosed with an aggressive type of blood cancer a year before, B cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Symes then signed up for a clinical trial of CAR-T, a new kind of treatment that genetically modifies the body’s own immune cells to direct them against the hostile cancer cells.
CAR-T cell is the most favorable product of Juno Therapeutics. Within the next few years, many oncologists anticipate CAR-T cell therapies to change the standard treatment for certain types of cancer.
CAR-T cells are a personalized medicine, which makes the production difficult and each batch of the drug is made from the patient’s blood. T cells, a type of white blood cell that fights pathogens, are filtered out, then purified and modified by inserting DNA into their nuclei. Reprogramming the T cell produces a that binds to a specific antigen of blood cancer cells called CD19, destroying them.
The entire process takes up to 21 days and is minimally automatic, causing CAR-T to be an expensive form of therapy. Juno aims at production costs that are much lower compared to the price of the drug, something it wants to achieve by speeding up the manufacturing process. Company representatives believe that new techonolgy will allow Juno to make the cells in three to five days. Chris Ramsborg, Juno’s vice president of process and product sciences, stated Juno’s manufacturing center could produce thousands of batches per year.
CAR-T cells can cause severe side effects. One of them is neurotoxicity which causes confusion or seizure like symptoms and the most frequent being cytokine-release syndrome. The syndrome can lead to seriously high fevers and abrupt drops in blood pressure.
Stanley Riddell, an oncologist and expert in immunotherapy, stated that researchers are still working on understanding side effects and reducing the risk by monitoring dosages of the CAR-T therapy. Riddell said that even though side effects of CAR-T are not yet fully comprehended, “There is an unmet need. Patients are dying. We have therapies that are effective, we shouldn’t hold them back.”

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