First evaluation of HER 2- specific ‘killer’ T cells in humans

A clinical trial resulting from a decade of lab research has shown promise for a new type of immunotherapy treatment for patients with HER2-positive sarcoma (a tumor arising from bone and soft tissue) and may extend to other types of cancer, said researchers from the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital and from Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. Their report appears in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Taking their research from the lab to the clinic, Ahmed and Dr. Stephen Gottschalk, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and co-author of the study, and their team embarked on a clinical study to establish the safety of their therapeutic approach.

The study included 19 pediatric and adult patients with HER2-positive sarcoma who had failed conventional therapies. They received increasing doses of HER2-CAR T cells. Infusions of HER2-CAR T cells were well tolerated, and T cells ‘homed’ to tumor sites. Several patients had clinical benefit, and eight patients survived for more than one year after T cell infusion.

“Using T cells as immunotherapy for cancer is increasingly being explored over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Gottschalk. “But there have not been too many CAR T-cell therapy studies for solid tumors so far, particularly for cancers that express HER2. We’ve now shown that indeed HER2-CAR T cells are safe up to the highest dose level tested, and since HER2 is expressed in a broad range of cancers, we are hopeful that our approach can be further developed to benefit many patients.”

“If you look at the history of cancer therapy, there are few examples of ‘magic bullets’ that can cure cancer alone,” Gottschalk said. “In general, combining different agents has proven most effective, and now we can think about different ways to explore this using HER2-CAR T cells.”