The Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, The Methodist Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital has received an $11.5 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to continue advancing translational lymphoma research by developing and testing new forms of T-cell immunotherapies to fight the disease.

The grant is awarded through the NCI’s Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) funding, which was established to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary translational cancer research.

Renew participation, extend research

The Center for Cell and Gene Therapy received the initial lymphoma SPORE grant in September 2007. 

The new grant funding will renew the center's participation in the SPORE program and extend their research into new cellular therapies for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia towards later stages of clinical development to make the treatments widely available and evaluate combination therapies with targeted agents.

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, will serve as co-principal investigator, along with Dr. Malcolm Brenner, director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy and a professor of medicine and pediatrics hematology/oncology at BCM. Both are members of the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at BCM, where they co-direct the Cancer Center’s cancer cell and gene therapy research program, Texas Children’s Cancer Center and The Methodist Cancer Center.

T-cells are special white blood cells in the immune system that coordinate a response to infections or cancers. Researchers with the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy have developed ways to give these cells back to patients as treatment to fight cancer and they will now broaden this application.

Collaborative effort

The collaborative SPORE award brings together biologists, immunologist, clinical investigators and core resources with a distinguished history of productive translational research.

Heslop and Brenner will lead a team of BCM investigators that also includes Drs. Ann Leen, Catherine Bollard, Gianpietro Dotti, Barbara Savoldo, Carlos Ramos, Cliona Rooney, Martha Mims, Peggy Goodell, Hao Liu, Adrian Gee and Bambi Grilley, Drs. Andrea Sheehan from BCM and Youli Zu from The Methodist Hospital lead the Tissue Bank.

Research goals

The Center for Cell and Gene Therapy team will work together on the following research goals.

  • Use T-cell therapies to eliminate lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells, including drug-resistant tumor-initiating cells.
  • Combine T-cell therapies with small molecules to increase antitumor activity.
  • Modulate to therapeutic advantage the accessory cells in the microenvironment that could otherwise contribute to the growth and survival of tumor cells.
  • Use high throughput technological analyses to identify the characteristics of tumor and immune cells response to immunotherapy.

The SPORE grant will not only support clinical translation research and initiation of new clinical trials, but also developmental research awards and career development awards for young investigators, Heslop said. She noted Leen and Ramos were recipients of career development awards through the initial SPORE grant.