The support of generous individuals and sponsors resulted in the Bucks County Chapter raising $235,050 in 2016 for research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. The majority of this money supported three immunotherapy research projects. Immunotherapy is an exciting new treatment approach that uses a patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer.
The immune system naturally scans the body for cancers and is often effective in killing cancerous cells. However, sometimes a tumor finds ways to avoid immune cells, allowing it to grow and spread, undisturbed by the immune response. If the immune system can be trained or re-focused to recognize and attack a cancer, it may be able to adapt along with the cancer and maintain a longer-term response against a variety of cancer types.
As a new treatment, there is still much to learn about immunotherapy. On-going research continues to uncover newer and better agents, find combinations that increase the numbers of patients who benefit, and determine blood and tissue-based markers to identify those patients most likely to benefit.
Today, Fox Chase is committed to the clinical development of immunotherapy. Fox Chase researchers will help discover which patients have the “markers” to benefit from treatment, how immunotherapy can be combined with chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation for more effective cancer eradication, and whether the approaches can be used not only to treat cancer after it has spread, but also to prevent cancer recurrence.
In 2016, the Bucks County Chapter provided support for three immunotherapy initiatives: 1) the Immune Monitoring Facility (IMF); 2) a collaborative research project headed by Drs. Kerry Campell and Hossein Borghaei; and 3) a research project led by Dr. Elizabeth Plimack.
The IMF analyzes what happens to a patient’s immune system when they are undergoing treatment. Changes in a patient’s blood can predict that the immunotherapy being given will be successful in eradicating his or her cancer. Fox Chase Chapter support has doubled the amount of samples that can be analyzed each day. In addition, the IMF will use funds to upgrade the instrument used to perform these analyses, the flow cytometer. This will enhance the facility’s ability to discover factors that influence immune response, improving our understanding of how therapies impact patients’ immune responses to fight cancer.
Bucks County Chapter funds also support the research projects of Drs. Campbell and Borghaei. Dr. Campbell recently finished a study where he investigated how an immune cell called a natural killer (NK) cell in the blood of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) lost its capacity to attack and kill cancer. A manuscript describing these results is currently in revision with the journal Oncoimmunology. Dr. Campbell also identified a protein on the surface of cancer patient immune cells, PD-1, that predicts poor outcomes in kidney cancer and may also do so in bladder cancer. Finally, Drs. Campbell and Borghaei are collaborating to determine how a new immunotherapy drug, ARI-4175, enhances immune function to attack tumors. In mouse studies, ARI-4175 appears to make NK cells kill cancer more effectively, which also involves a receptor for an immune factor called interleukin-1 alpha.
The Bucks County Chapter also supported Dr. Plimack’s efforts to identify immune cells in kidney cancer that predict responsiveness to immunotherapy. Drs. Plimack and Ghatalia are analyzing the immune cells that invade the kidney cancer to determine if the presence or absence of particular kinds of immune cells predicts whether a patient will respond to immunotherapy. Currently, only about 1/3 of kidney cancer patients benefit from this therapy and so it is essential to both be able to predict those who will respond and to understand what makes a productive response happen so the therapy can be altered to benefit more patients. To date they have collected all of the patient information and are now set to analyze that information to determine if there are immune populations in tumors that predict outcome.