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T-Cell Therapies: Best Bets in Pushing Down the Cost Curve and Prioritizing Cancer Targets

October 7, 2014
New approaches in cancer immunology are achieving promising early-stage results through novel techniques for arming the body’s own t-cells to have greater impact on reducing tumors and preventing the spread of disease. CAR-T methods that extract, reengineer, and reintroduce a given patient’s t-cells provide highly personalized therapy but may be difficult to scale up. The interleukin enhancement approach motivates existing t-cells to be more effective and may be easier to deliver but have less pervasive effects. Early signs also suggest significant side-effect risks that will need to be understood and reduced for t-cell therapies to progress to commercialization.

Kristen Hege, MD, VP of Translational Development, Hematology and Oncology at Celgene moderated a panel on t-cell therapies at the 2014 BIO Investor Forum. The panel included:

  • David D. Chang, MD, PhD, EVP Research and Development, Chief Medical Officer, Kite Pharma;

  • Jonathan Lewis, MD, PhD, CEO and Director, ZIOPHARM Oncology;

  • Richard Morgan, PhD, Vice President, Immunotherapy, bluebird bio; and

  • Timothy C. Rodell, MD, President and CEO and President, GlobeImmune.

It’s only been in recent memory that cancer immunotherapy entered a realm biotechnology investors understand that t-cell therapies could become commercially viable.
“If you were to go back five years ago,” Rodell explained “and you walked in to a room of financial people to talk about cancer immunotherapy, you would have people making the sign of the cross.”

There are also a number of potential advantages to utilizing t-cell therapies.

“The main advantage is that you have a living drug that, by its own nature, is doing exactly what you want it to do,” Morgan said. “You have the enormous advantage that fundamental biology is on your side.” In addition, Morgan said “…relatively simple manipulations of the immune system can have enormous therapeutic benefits.”
Another benefit highlighted by Lewis included the therapy’s targeting capability.

“This is a way to do a surgical strike on a tumor,” Lewis explained. “and when it works, it works profoundly.”

“Another thing that is striking is the durability of the response,” Chang added. “The whole t-cell therapy area or immunology is at the beginning of what is to be one of the most profound therapeutics that will be out there.”

While there are some hurdles to jump in regards to past toxicity issues as well as making the therapy more commercially viable, the potential is there to bring new, breakthrough therapies to patients in need. ​