Developing New Therapies:
TIL therapy: We are the first group in Canada to perform clinical trials of a new type of immune therapy called “TIL therapy” (TIL stands for Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocyte). TILs are specialized immune cells (T cells) that are capable of fighting cancer cells. In TIL therapy, a patient’s own TILs are activated and multiplied in the laboratory. The TILs are then given back to the patient. The TILs that are used in our clinical trials are produced by our Cell Production Team. We have launched trials for patients with metastatic melanoma, ovarian cancer, and mesothelioma.
TCR gene transfer trial: We are planning to open the first clinical trial in Canada that uses genetically engineered T cells. These T cells are referred to as “TCR gene-transduced T cells”. These T cells will be manufactured in the laboratory so that they can potentially kill off cancer cells when given to patients.
A new type of cell: Drs. Marcus Butler and Naoto Hirano have produced a cell called an “artificial antigen-presenting cell” (aAPC). These aAPCs will be used in the laboratory to grow T cells that can kill cancer cells.
Developing the next generation of immune therapies: We are conducting studies to understand how a T cell response can be regulated and augmented in order to improve its ability to kill cancer cells. There are many types of cells and molecules that have the ability to either promote a T cell response, or inhibit it. Unraveling these complex interactions will identify novel regulators that can be targeted in the next generation of therapeutic agents.
Developing new clinical trials of combination therapies: While current immune therapies are generally aimed at improving one aspect of the immune response, combining different therapeutic strategies could further improve the immune response and result in a stronger and more sustained attack on a patient’s cancer. Our team is working on multiple types of combination approaches to treat cancer.
New Technologies and Infrastructure:
Infrastructure for running clinical trials: Our program has expertise in all aspects of clinical trials, including approval from Health Canada, trial set-up, patient accrual and trial follow up. Our team includes dedicated trial monitors who are focused on quality assurance. Together, we ensure that trials are conducted in accordance with institutional and regulatory guidelines and professional standards of practice.
Immune Monitoring: We have assembled a team of scientists with expertise in various state-of-the-art technologies for profiling the immune response of patients. This expertise comes together in the Immune Monitoring Team.
Cell Production Team: This team has expertise in producing cells for infusion into patients, such as T cells and dendritic cells. They also have expertise in the regulatory issues related to producing clinical-grade cells. In addition to producing clinical-grade cells, this team also provides cells for various research projects aimed at developing novel immune therapies.
New tool for detecting tumor-fighting T cells: Our group has developed a superior technology for detecting tumor-fighting T cells. The next steps will be to test this technology on patient samples, and share this technology with the world.
Tumor Immunotherapy Program (TIP) Database: We are developing a comprehensive database to capture clinical data from patients who have undergone immune therapy at the Princess Margaret. This bank of “big data” will include information about treatment regimens, side effects, clinical response, and patient survival. This comprehensive repository will be an invaluable tool for medical research. It will provide an important springboard to further cancer drug discovery and pave the way for a more personalized approach to cancer treatment.