To many, immunotherapies — treatments that use a patient’s immune system to fight cancer— sound like something from an episode of Star Trek. In CAR T cell therapy, for example, a patient’s T cells are isolated, then reprogrammed with a special receptor that directs them to attack cancerous cells.
But although the science may sound futuristic, these cutting edge therapies are already being developed and tested with remarkable success in Seattle and beyond, and with more research they could feasibly lead to a cure for cancer.
Today, Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a global leader in cell therapy research, announced a huge step towards developing that cure: the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Research Clinic, a first-of-its-kind facility that will allow Fred Hutch to conduct clinical trials that test a wide variety of immunotherapy treatments.
“We and scientists worldwide have been working for decades to understand how to harness the power of the immune system,” Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland said in a release. “Over the last few years we have taken what we have learned in the Hutch’s research labs and started to produce experimental treatments that we now can test; this clinic should inspire hope that we will find cures for cancers once thought incurable.”
The clinic is named after the family of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who have donated $30 million to Fred Hutch’s immunotherapy work over the past seven years. Bezos is also an investor in Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on immunotherapy treatments, which works closely with Fred Hutch.
Through the clinic, Fred Hutch researchers will conduct twelve clinical immunotherapy trials, totaling up to 200 patients, in 2017. That is more than double the number of trials that the research giant was able to conduct in 2016.
And with increased capacity comes more ambitious trials. While immunotherapy research up to this point has focused on cancers like Leukemia, which do not develop solid tumors, four of the twelve trials being conducted next year will examine the use of immunotherapies in patients with solid state tumors.
The facility has also been painstakingly designed to offer researchers the ability to monitor patients more intensively than ever before, which could help answer why some patients respond to immunotherapies but others do not, among a myriad of other questions around these techniques.
Dr. David Maloney, Fred Hutch’s medical director of Cellular Immunotherapy, will head the new clinic. Listen to him describe his work and vision for the clinic below.
The 9,222 square foot clinic is located on the sixth floor of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner, and features 15 patient care suites. Care providers from the SCCA and researchers from Fred Hutch will collaborate to treat patients, and the treatments themselves will take place in Fred Hutch labs just a stone’s throw away.
The clinic launched a soft open on Oct. 10, conducting 188 patient visits in its first two weeks. The clinic will officially open with a symposium and a ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 12.