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Scientists Chris Brown (left) and Adam Beebe (right) in Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Therapeutic Cell Production Core, where a patient’s immune cells are turned into a cancer-fighting treatment. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

Seattle Children’s Research Institute is launching a clinical trial that will examine a new kind of cancer-fighting treatment. The treatment is a type of CAR T immunotherapy, which reprograms a person’s immune cells to find and destroy cancer.

CAR T therapies have found early success in blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, but have run into obstacles when it comes to solid tumor cancers like lung and breast cancer.

This new trial, called STRIvE-01, is hoping to overcome those obstacles for children with sarcoma, kidney and neuroblastoma tumors. The trial will treat children whose cancer has relapsed, a group that often has few remaining treatment options.

Dr. Katie Albert, the lead investigator of the trial, told GeekWire in an email interview that the goal of this early trial is to test the safety of the new therapy and establish the best dose, although researchers also hope to see the trial make headway against patients’ tumors.

“Further, we hope to observe efficacy against one or more types of tumors and minimal toxicity to normal tissues. In the best case scenario, this will simply be the first step in developing a curative therapy for our highest risk patients,” Albert said.

Researcher Dr. Katie Albert is leading the STRIvE-01 at Seattle Children’s. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

Scientists at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research will reprogram the T-cells of patients in the trial to create CAR T cells, which are designed to hunt down cells that display a specific protein.

In this case, the therapy will target EGFR, a protein that regulates how tissues grow. Although it can be found on many tissues in the body, it is particularly common on fast-growing tumors that often have mutations in this protein.

Because of its unique role in these tumors, EGFR has been the target of other potential drugs, but in many cases, the drugs damaged normal tissue in addition to cancerous tumors.

“However, we have constructed our CAR from an antibody that specifically recognizes mutated or abnormally overexpressed EGFR with relative sparing of normal tissues. Clinical trials using this antibody have shown promising toxicity profiles,” Albert said.”

In other words, the researchers are hopeful that the new kind of CAR T cells will be able to target cancer cells that display the protein without harming normal tissue that also displays the protein.

The new trial is yet another notch in the belt of Seattle Children’s growing immunotherapy research program.

In June, the institute launched a different immunotherapy trial series that aims to treat terminal childhood brain cancers. It also conducts research into new immunotherapy treatments and is constructing a CAR T clinical trial collaboration program with other children’s hospitals around the country.

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