Hegde and team receive funding from The Faris Foundation for advanced sarcoma clinical trial


HOUSTON – (Dec. 2, 2020) - Dr. Meenakshi Hegde, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Hematology-Oncology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center, and her team were awarded a $1.4 million gift over three years from The Faris Foundation to support a clinical trial of a novel form of immunotherapy for children with recurrent or refractory sarcomas.

This trial, known as the HEROS 3.0 trial, will evaluate chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells that are targeted against HER2, a growth protein that is found on the surface of some cancer cells. CAR T cells, which are specially altered T cells that fight cancer, will be administered in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors, such as the PD1 antibody.

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The HEROS 3.0 trial is the first-in-human study of HER2 chimeric antigen receptor T cells in combination with immune checkpoint blockade to treat advanced sarcoma. Researchers aim to define the optimal dose and assess the safety of CAR T cells plus immune checkpoint blockade in children with high-risk sarcoma. Given the uncertain times and ongoing challenges in conducting early phase clinical research, the funding from The Faris Foundation is instrumental to the success of this important trial.

The HEROS 3.0 clinical trial is the result of over a decade of research by Hegde and her mentor Dr. Nabil Ahmed.

In their prior clinical trial, children and young adults with advanced HER2-expressing sarcoma tolerated the HER2 CAR T cell infusion well, and some had clinical benefit. In the current trial, in addition to defining the safety and anti-tumor effect of the combination therapy, the researchers will study whether the combined approach can boost the vaccine effect. The information gathered could help Hegde and her team improve the way CAR T cell treatments are delivered to children with sarcomas and other solid tumors. Long term, this could impact the effectiveness of CAR T cells against solid tumors and lead to more positive clinical outcomes. Because these research findings are shared with physicians and researchers nationally and internationally, children from around the world could benefit from the discoveries and treatment approaches developed by physician-scientists and researchers at Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

Dr. Shoba Navai will work with Hegde as a co-leader of the HEROS 3.0 clinical trial to be conducted at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Other key members of the team involved in conducting biomarker studies are Drs. Nabil Ahmed, Sujith Joseph and Jason Yustein, who is the director of The Faris D. Virani Ewing Sarcoma Center.

The overall cure rate for childhood cancer has improved dramatically over the past 50 years, now exceeding 80%. Despite these advances, childhood cancer remains the leading cause of non-accidental death in children and, for some types of cancer such as metastatic sarcoma, cure remains elusive. In addition, current treatments for childhood cancer are associated with life-threatening and in some instances severe side effects that can be lifelong or manifest many years after completion of therapy. Thus, effective, less toxic treatment strategies are urgently needed for many types of childhood cancer.

Cutting-edge research in immunotherapeutic approaches to cancer treatment are actively being developed and studied at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. These novel immunotherapies hold the promise of improving the outcomes for children with aggressive cancers such as sarcomas, which more commonly affect children and young adults. Children with resistant or relapsed sarcomas, or disease that has spread to more than one location in the body, have very poor outcomes. For these children with high-risk disease, immunotherapy may prove beneficial, and, by being highly cancer-targeted, may carry a lower risk of bystander damage to normal tissues.