Loyola Med. to Become First Chicago Producer of Cancer-Fighting CAR-T Cells

Photo Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago CAR-T cells will be collected from the immune systems of cancer patients and sent to Loyola’s lab, where they will be genetically modified to kill cancer cells and put back in to the body of the patient, a press release said.

Strides are being made in the fight against cancer within the halls of Loyola Medical Center. Patients could see more effective therapy as a result of new development by researchers.

Loyola Medicine intends to become the first Chicago medical center to engineer cancer fighting Chimeric Antigen Receptor T (CAR-T) cells to fight leukemia and lymphoma, the Leukemia Research Foundation announced in a press release last month.

CAR-T therapy utilizes the patient’s immune system to fight cancer, the press release stated. Scientists have researched the therapy for several decades, according to The National Cancer Institute. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two new types of CAR-T treatment, which accelerated the industry, according to The National Cancer Institute.

In the clinical trial, cells will be collected from the patient’s immune system and sent to Loyola’s lab, according to the press release. The cells will be genetically modified to kill cancer cells then returned to the patient’s immune system, according to the press release.

Dr. Patrick Stiff, M.D., Loyola’s director of hematology/oncology research, and Michael Nishimura, Ph.D., Loyola’s director of immunologic therapies are leading the research, according to the press release.

Loyola hopes to produce CAR-T cells that won’t cause as many side effects, Stiff said in the press release.

“We’re working to develop a more pure CAR-T product that would lessen toxic side effects and potentially increase the number of eligible patients,” Stiff said in the press release.

If Loyola can produce purer CAR-T cells, patients could be less likely to experience severe side effects, such as high fever or memory loss. Patients could also move from an expensive inpatient therapy to a less expensive outpatient setting, which would allow more people to participate in the treatment, according to the press release.

“We shouldn’t be sitting on our heels waiting for someone else to come up with a better mousetrap when we have the knowledge and ability to do it ourselves,” Stiff told The Chicago Tribune.

Stiff and Nishimura couldn’t be reached by The Phoenix for comment.

Chicago centers currently treat patients with CAR-T cells developed by pharmaceutical companies, according to the press release. Once initial testing is completed, Loyola Medicine hopes to make the CAR-T cells available in centers across the country and globally, according to the press release.

In July 2018, Loyola University Medical Center participated in a clinical trial of CAR-T therapy published in the  New England Journal of Medicine. The study included patients with certain types of large B cell lymphoma, a specific type of cancer within the immune system, who failed standard treatments. The study found after CAR-T therapy, 42 percent were in complete remission, which means all signs of cancer are gone, after 15 months.

However,  the study also showed 95 percent of the patients experienced at least one severe side effect.

Loyola will initially test its CAR-T cells on patients who have failed other treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia and B-cell non-Hodgkin’s’ lymphoma — specific types of cancer — the press release said. These trials will determine the effectiveness and toxicity of the CAR-T cells, according to the press release.

The CAR-T cells will be produced in the McCormick Tribune Foundation Center for Cellular Therapy in Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center in Maywood, according to the press release.

The research is funded by a $250,000 donation from the Leukemia Research Foundation, according to the press release. The Chicago-based foundation funds blood cancer research in order to find causes and cures of the disease, according to its website.

Kevin Radelet, the foundation’s executive director, said the research fits with the foundation’s mission on many levels.

“CAR-T therapy is new, innovative and absolutely groundbreaking, so it fits with us perfectly,” Radelet said. “It’s also here, with Loyola in Chicago, which is really where our foundation’s footprint is.”

Loyola Medicine hopes to enroll patients in clinical trials before the end of this year, according to the press release.

Sarah Flynn, a sophomore involved in Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, said it’s important for research to be done so doctors can use new treatments to help patients.

“I think it’s important for research to be continuously done because treatment is so difficult for cancer patients,” Flynn, 19, said. “It’s important to keep finding new ways of fighting different types of cancer and making it easier for people to go through treatment.”

Emma Jaszczak, a first-year studying biology, said finding new ways to treat cancer is important since it affects so many people.

“Cancer research is important because cancer affects millions of people and we still don’t have a definitive way to treat it that works effectively,” Jaszczak, 18, said.

Gina Civettini, a first-year studying biology and chemistry, said cancer research will help doctors treat patients in more effective ways.

“With a greater understanding of cancer and how it affects the body, doctors will be able to catch it sooner, treat it faster, with more precision, and with a lessened strain on the body,” Civettini, 19, said.

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