news-bio-heslop (320x240)
Helen E. Heslop, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon)

For the past few decades, bone marrow transplantation (BMT) has been the only curative option for many leukemia and lymphomas. However, there are many serious risks that go along with the procedure. Recently, new approaches using a specialized type of blood cells called T cells have proven to be highly effective in treating certain blood cancers. Using a new Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a team from Baylor College of Medicine and the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor, Houston Methodist Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital will work to develop more widely applicable targeted cellular therapies for leukemia and lymphoma.

“The results we’ve seen so far using T cell therapy is very encouraging, and while we hope these therapies can alleviate the need for BMT, extending this success to other blood cancers has been challenging for many reasons,” said Dr. Helen Heslop, professor of medicine and pediatrics in the section of hematology-oncology and director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor. “Our overall goal of this SCOR is to extend our past successes in developing targeted cellular therapies so that these effective treatments can become standard of care for the broadest possible range of blood cancers.”

The project team will achieve this goal by using recent preliminary data to develop and test improvements to these therapies as well as additional novel strategies, including targeting multiple different proteins that are expressed by cancer cells at the same time, using a novel first-in-man vaccine to enhance the ability of engineered T cells to recognize and kill Myeloma, and testing a novel artificial receptor on T cells to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Additionally, the researchers are undertaking studies to improve the activity of banked cells that have the advantage of being immediately available to patients, as developing cellular therapies for each patient specifically can be costly and time-consuming.

“This SCOR will develop and implement first-in-man studies with the potential to become clinically effective adoptive cell therapies for diseases that currently lack safe, curative options including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, and AML,” said Heslop, who also is the associate director of clinical research and leader of the Cancer Cell and Gene Therapy program in the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor. “We will judge the success of our proposed projects based on the clinical activity of these new therapies. Our ultimate indicator of success will be whether the treatments developed by our SCOR eventually become standard of care for patients.”

The SCOR grant will provide a total of $5 million dollars in funding over five years.

Other contributors to this project include Drs. Malcolm Brenner, Cliona Rooney, Rayne Rouce, Leonid Metelitsa, Ann Leen, Premal Lulla, Maksim Mamonkin, Swati Naik, Bambi Grilley, Adrian Gee and Zhuyong Mei, all with Baylor.