Center for Cell and Gene Therapy receives renewed NIH funding to enhance T cell therapy for cancer

HOUSTON - (Feb. 27, 2013) - The Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital and The Methodist Hospital (www.bcm.edu/genetherapy/) has received a $11.3 million renewal grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance the development of more effective and less toxic targeted T cell therapies for children and adults with cancer.

Center for Cell and Gene Therapy members Dr. Helen Heslop, professor of medicine and pediatrics - hematology-oncology at BCM and director of the Adult Stem Cell Transplant Program at The Methodist Hospital, and Dr. Cliona Rooney, a professor of pediatrics - hematology-oncology, molecular virology and microbiology and of immunology at BCM, serve as co-principal investigators of the project.

"Harnessing T cells (special white blood cells in the immune system) to treat cancer more effectively remains a leading biomedical research goal and has produced encouraging results in hematologic malignancies but extending the approach to solid tumors is a more challenging task," said Heslop. Obstacles include lack of target antigens, as well as negative regulation of the immune system within tumors and their microenvironments, she said.

With the new funding, Heslop and Rooney along with their team members at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy will build on advances made possible through the initial funding grant established nine years ago to further address these problems and extend to reach a wider spectrum of cancers.

The team has made significant advances using T cell approaches that are tumor-specific and have even obtained complete remissions in patients with advanced/relapsed lymphoma, nasopharyngeal cancer and neuroblastoma. Their work has led to an orphan drug designation (developmental drugs that are granted special status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of rare diseases) for the treatment of post-transplant lymphomas, and the development of advanced stage studies of lymphoma and nasopharyngeal cancers.

"T cells can have potent and long-lasting anti-tumor activity without the toxicities associated with standard therapies," said Rooney. "If we can harness these benefits in standard treatments for cancer, this will dramatically improve outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients."
Heslop and Rooney are also members of the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at BCM, the Texas Children's Cancer Center and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute.

Rooney and Heslop core team members include Drs. Malcolm Brenner, Gianpietro Dotti, William Fisher, Adrian Gee, Stephen Gottschalk, Bambi Jo Grilley, Leslie Huye, Ann Leen, Hao Liu, Chrystal Louis, Zhuyong Mei, Barbara Savoldo, Juan Vera Valdes and Lisa Wang, all of BCM.

Funding for this work is provided through a research program project grant of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (www.cancer.gov) under award number P01CA094237.

About Texas Children’s Hospital

Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit health care organization, is committed to creating a healthier future for children and women throughout the global community by leading in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked as the best children’s hospital in Texas, and among the top in the nation, Texas Children’s has garnered widespread recognition for its expertise and breakthroughs in pediatric and women’s health. The hospital includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; the Feigin Center for pediatric research; Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility focusing on high-risk births; Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, a community hospital in suburban West Houston; and Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, a second community hospital planned to open in 2017. The organization also created the nation’s first HMO for children, has the largest pediatric primary care network in the country and a global health program that’s channeling care to children and women all over the world. Texas Children’s Hospital is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine. For more information, go to www.texaschildrens.org. Get the latest news by visiting the online newsroom and Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.