October is breast cancer awareness month and an important reminder than one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes. It is also a reminder that regardless of the source of the cancer a month-long observance is not enough. Conquering cancer is about taking action and making an impact, as noted in “The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s” recent article Why It’s Time to Rethink Pink by Brian Reich. Awareness is simply the foundation for promoting advocacy and inspiring action. With cancer, in particular, awareness alone isn’t going to advance the level of treatment or support therapies that help treat patients without the devastating effects of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. On the molecular treatment level in particular, which we believe is the future of cancer care, there is a definitive need to fund additional research.
While significant progress has been made in the field of immunotherapy since early clinical trials supported by ACGT funding, there is far more progress to be made. We look forward to celebrating more lifesaving stories, like that of Bob Levis who two years ago had terminal cancer and today, thanks to a clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania, is cancer free, playing golf once again. Bob is just another success story proving that this form of gene therapy, called immunotherapy, which uses the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer cells while keeping healthy cells healthy, can be a lifesaving approach. Once considered a fledgling science, immunotherapy, and other cell and gene therapy treatments for cancer are attracting tremendous media attention as well as that of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries who have invested almost $750 million in the last 12 months to bring this revolutionary science to practice. ACGT was at the forefront of this movement with its first grants in 2002, and now, almost $25 million has been awarded to date.
Among the remarkable progress being made by ACGT Research Fellows is Dr. John Bell, Senior Research Scientist and Professor of Medicine at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada. In November 2013, ACGT awarded a $500,000 grant to Dr. Bell, who has worked extensively with oncolytic viruses – man-made viruses that target only cancer cells, and spare patients the harrowing side-effects of chemotherapy or surgery – and has discovered the enormous promise they offer for better care. Last year, Dr. Bell and his team uncovered a new oncolytic variant – the Chimeric Maraba virus – that has had success in treating human glioblastomas in mice. With ACGT’s grant, Dr. Bell is able to further explore the potential of Chimeric Maraba, design and manufacture it, and begin Phase I human trials to establish safety and efficacy.
This week, Penn Medicine announced that studies with investigational therapy CTL019, which uses the patient’s own T-cells to target tumor cells, resulted in 90% of participants (27 out of 30) achieving complete remission. Among those leading this research team was the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Carl H. June, a famed researcher and ACGT Fellow and Scientific Advisory Council member who was lauded for saving the life of young Emma Whitehead using immunotherapy treatments back in 2012.
ACGT supported Dr. June’s research, as well as the pioneering research of ACGT Scientific Advisory Council member Dr. Michel Sadelain, back in 2004. Oftentimes, the ability to move beyond awareness is challenged by a lack of clarity around how one person can make an impact, but each of us can do something and together we can make a real impact.
- Like ACGT on Facebook and spread the word among friends and family
- Follow us on Twitter for the latest news on molecular medicine and retweet to help build awareness and drive action within your own network.
- Donate. ACGT is proud to support Young Investigators and renowned researchers alike as they uncover new breakthroughs in the fields of cell and gene therapy to treat cancer.