By Anne W. Semmes
Once again, swimmers took part in the annual Swim Across America/Fairfield County event that took place on August 8, on the shores of Long Island Sound, at the headquarters of the Greenwich-based Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT).
ACGT co-founder Barbara Netter and Dr. Carl June received the Edward Netter Leadership Award in 2019 for pioneering cell and gene therapies for cancer. “ACGT believed in science and funded us,” he said, “when no one else would.” Contributed photo.
The swimmers swam in support of life-saving cancer treatments sought by scientists, doctors and clinicians funded by AGCT. To share some of the life-saving findings of those world-renowned researchers, an ACGT summit was held for the first time via zoom.
Following are some highlights from that summit with keynote speaker Nobel laureate James Allison, PhD, and Dr. Carl June, ACGT Scientific Advisory Board, named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2018 for his pioneering work in the development of CAR T therapy, which was the first to be approved by the FDA in August 2017. approved personalized cellular therapy for cancer.
“Every cancer has its own Achilles heel that we need to identify,” noted Dr. June, who directs the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania. “We are now at the dawn of an era where we have the means to make weapons of our immune system. We’re going to see many different cell types being used with the principles of genetic engineering to find the Achilles heel of different cancers.”
“We think the immune system can evolve at the pace of the tumor,” noted Dr. Brian Brown op, 2021 ACGT investigator and professor/associate director of the Precision Immunology Institute Icahn School of Medicine in Most Sinai. “We hope we can harness the immune system to keep it evolving and killing cancer cells: to look for them wherever they are. It is a major breakthrough in our thinking about the use of gene and cell therapy against cancer.”
dr. Michael Lotze chairs the prestigious scientific advisory board of the ACGT. He is an immunologist at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and a professor of surgery, immunology, and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Contributed photo.
“We’re not going to cure cancer without T cells,” Dr. Michael T. Lotze, Chair of ACGT’s Scientific Advisory Board, “But T cells alone are not enough. We need to find ways to get T cells into the microenvironment of a tumor. The big challenge is to develop cancer biology and tumor immunology.” to combine.” Lotze is Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, and Chief Cell Therapy Officer at Nurix.
From the patient’s quarters, Tom Whitehead, father of Emily, spoke to the world’s first pediatric patient to receive CAR T-cell therapy. “The therapy worked – today Emily is cancer free for nine years! She recently celebrated her 16th birthday and has just finished her second year of high school. Fortunately, nine years after CAR T-cell therapy, cancer is a distant memory for her.” Whitehead is a co-founder of the Emily Whitehead Foundation and is committed to encouraging other patients to continue seeking new treatments, as well as connecting with researchers and clinicians to find cell and gene therapy studies that may be life-saving. are.
Callum “Cal” Miller is a young CAR T recipient who was being treated for primary CNS lymphoma, which is extremely rare in children, with only a handful of cases worldwide. Cal wants to help other children and families understand that “they are in good hands with this new immunotherapy. CAR T is the top treatment. It’s new now, but in a few years it will be normal business.” Cal was accompanied by his mother, Caroline Corner, who explained Cal’s treatment trajectory and how the CAR T clinical trial was one last chance for Cal to beat his rare disease. As of June 2021, Cal has achieved 12 months of remission from his cancer.
“The one thing that touches me deeply,” says Dr. Klaus Veitinger, ACGT Board Member and Venture Partner at OrbiMed, “is the passion of everyone involved in this field. People are truly driven by passion and for me passion is a key ingredient to success. That is why I am optimistic.”
“We are pleased that ACGT is the catalyst that unites these diverse stakeholders and advances these important conversations,” said Barbara Lavery, chief program officer for ACGT. “Summit 2021 has delivered incredible value that will help scientists working on novel cell and gene therapy approaches, along with companies seeking investment to advance clinical pipelines, and patients and families seeking potentially life-changing therapeutic options in their fight against cancer.”