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Two of the speakers discussing with each other and laughing..

A café to advance T cell research

We want to accelerate cancer research in T cell immunotherapy!

In order to promote research collaboration, spread knowledge and exchange ideas, Oslo Cancer Cluster arranged a seminar together with Nature Research this week. The topic was T Cell Immunotherapy: Advances, Challenges and Future Directions.

What is T cell immunotherapy?

T cell immunotherapy is a rapidly growing area of research in cancer treatment. The research focuses on finding new ways to trigger the immune system to kill cancer cells.

The treatment method involves collecting T cells (a type of immune system cell) from a patient’s blood sample. The T cells are then modified in the laboratory so they will bind to cancer cells and destroy them.

One way to do this is called CAR T therapy. This involves adding a gene for a special receptor that binds to a specific protein (also called an antigen) on the patient’s cancer cells. The special receptor is called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). These cells are grown in large numbers in the laboratory and then infused in the patient to create an immune response.

Read more about CAR T cell therapies in this article from The National Cancer Institute

Image of researchers attending Nature Café on T cell immunotherapy in Oslo.

Many researchers attended the Nature Café for the opportunity to learn more about recent advances in T cell immunotherapy. Photo: Christian Tandberg

Why is cell therapy important?

Research into T cell immunotherapy is important, because it has the potential to treat and cure cancer. T cell immunotherapy can help cancer patients live longer and potentially has fewer side effects than traditional treatment methods, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

However, more research is needed to make T cell immunotherapy work on all kinds of cancer. For example, some patients with haematologic cancer, cancers that develop in the blood-forming tissue, relapse into disease after treatment. Moreover, T cell immunotherapy does not work on all patients with solid cancer tumours yet.

Researchers wish to know why some cancers are resistant to T cell immunotherapy and why some patients acquire resistance to the treatment over time. Some patients also experience toxic side effects to T cell immunotherapy. Moreover, researchers are continually searching for possible new antigens (proteins) to target.

There are still many unanswered questions and that is why we need to accelerate the research.

Two researchers in the audience asking questions.

Members of the audience were eager to find out more about this rapidly growing area of research. Photo: Christian Tandberg

Why did we arrange this event?

The Norwegian research environment in cancer immunotherapy is world-class. But Norway is a small country and researchers need access to international partners and expertise to develop their findings.

The purpose of the event was to highlight recent findings in T cell immunotherapy. There was also the opportunity to discuss ongoing challenges and opportunities in the development of these types of treatments.

Among the guests were several prominent Norwegian cancer researchers, the pharma industry, hospital clinicians, biotech start-ups, and more. During the seminar, many of the participants in the audience asked follow-up questions and the café breaks were buzzing with conversations between researchers.

Three researchers in the audience discussing with each other.

The event was an opportunity to discuss with and learn from prominent researchers in the cell therapy field. Photo: Christian Tandberg

Watch the video below to see a few of the participants’ reactions:

Meet the speakers

The moderator for the event was Saheli Sadanand, Associate Editor, Research Manuscripts at Nature Medicine. Photo: Christian Tandberg

The moderator for the event was Saheli Sadanand, Associate Editor, Research Manuscripts at Nature Medicine. Photo: Christian Tandberg

 

The first speaker was Sara Ghorashian from the University College London

The first speaker was Sara Ghorashian from the University College London. Dr. Ghorashian is a consultant Paediatric Haematologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, and the co-investigator or lead UK investigator for six different CAR T cell clinical trials. She talked about her research to improve outcomes of CAR T cell therapy in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This is a type of cancer in the blood. Photo: Christian Tandberg

 

Attilio Bondanza, who is a physician-scientist and the CAR T cell program leader at Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland.

The second speaker was Attilio Bondanza, who is a physician-scientist and the CAR T cell program leader at Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland. Before joining Novartis, Dr. Bondanza was a professor at the San Raffeale University Hospital, where he led the Innovative Immunotherapies Unit. Dr. Bondanza talked about his work to model CAR T cell efficacy and CAR T cell-induced toxicities pre-clinically. Photo: Christian Tandberg

 

Sara Mastaglio, who is a physician scientist specialising in haematology at San Raffaele Scientific Institute, in Milan

The third speaker was Sara Mastaglio, who is a physician scientist specialising in haematology at San Raffaele Scientific Institute, in Milan. She has been actively involved in the development and clinical application of CAR T cell therapies. Dr. Mastaglio discussed her research on genome-edited T cells for the treatment of haematological malignancies. Photo: Christian Tandberg

 

Aude Chapuis, who is an assistant member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle

The last speaker was Aude Chapuis, who is an assistant member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. In addition to running a lab, she sees patients as an attending physician at the Fred Hutch Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Dr. Chapuis discussed mechanisms of response and resistance to instruct next generations of T cell receptor gene therapy. Photo: Christian Tandberg

 

Want to find out more?

In February 2020, the journal Nature Research will publish an article with a more detailed overview of the speakers, their presentations and the research. We will provide a link here when it is available!

If you enjoyed this event, please subscribe to our newsletter to receive invitations to our upcoming events and a digest of our latest news.

 

We want to thank our sponsors for helping us make this event happen.

Sponsor logos: Novartis Oncology, ThermoFisher Scientific and Celgene

Torbjörn Furuseth, Targovax

New clinical trial at Oslo University Hospital

Our member Targovax has announced a new clinical trial for skin cancer patients at Oslo University Hospital.

The second part of a clinical trial for patients with refractory advanced melanoma (a type of skin cancer) will take place at Oslo University Hospital.

“We are excited that we can offer this treatment alternative to patients in our home country, and hopefully it will help us to recruit more patients faster,” said Torbjørn Furuseth, Chief Financial Officer, Targovax.

Targovax is a Norwegian biotech company that develops oncolytic viruses called ONCOS-102 to destroy cancer cells. The treatment is targeted towards solid tumours that are especially hard to treat. The ultimate goal is to activate the patient’s immune system to fight cancer.

Promising results

“The trial is until now conducted at three top hospitals in the US, where competition for patients to clinical trials is high. Oslo University Hospital is also a great cancer center, and currently there are no trials offered to this patient population,” said Furuseth.

Three out of nine patients responded to the treatment during the first part of the clinical trial. This included one complete response and two partial responses.

Dr. Magnus Jäderberg, CMO of Targovax, said: “It is promising to see this level of clinical responses after only three ONCOS-102 injections, including a complete response, which is rare in this heavily pre-treated patient population.”

A forceful combination

The treatment involves a combination of an oncolytic virus and an anti-PD1 checkpoint inhibitor.

The oncolytic virus is a modified virus that has been developed to selectively attack and kill cancer cells. You can read more about the oncolytic viruses on Targovax’s official website.

The anti-PD1 checkpoint inhibitor disrupts the interaction between proteins on the surface of cancer cells. This stops the cancer from evading the immune system.

“Earlier this year, we decided to expand the trial to test a more intensified schedule of ONCOS-102, and it will be interesting to see whether this regimen can generate more and deeper clinical responses,” said Dr. Alexander Shoushtari, Principal Investigator, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York.

The second part of the clinical trial is currently enrolling new patients.

 

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Jon Amund Kyte at the Norwegian Radium Hospital.

Attracting clinical trials to Norway

Dr. Jon Amund Kyte at Oslo University Hospital (OUH) and Oslo Cancer Cluster share the common goal of bringing more clinical trials to Norway.

 

Jon Amund Kyte is the new Head at the Department of Experimental Cancer Treatment at OUH. He also runs three separate clinical trials and is the leader of a research group at the Department of Cancer Immunology, where he develops novel CAR T cell therapy and conducts translational studies.

Kyte aims to increase the number of and improve the quality of clinical trials in Norway. He says this will contribute to more patients gaining access to novel cancer treatments and to improving the efficacy of cancer therapies.

“The only way to improve cancer treatment is to have clinical trials,” said Kyte.

Oslo Cancer Cluster also wants to bring more clinical trials to Norway to develop innovative cancer medicines. The ambition is to enable faster patient recruitment from across the Nordic region, so that many more can benefit from new treatments, such as immunotherapy.

 

CAR T cells are produced by isolating specific cells of the immune system (T cells) from a cancer patient and modifying them so that they become more effective at recognizing and killing cancer cells.

 

Promising advances

Immunotherapy represents a new type of cancer treatment, which activates the patient’s immune-system to fight off the cancer cells. It gives doctors the opportunity to help patients that previously had limited treatment options. Most types of immunotherapy also cause less side effects than traditional cancer treatments.

“The important point is that immunotherapy can have a long-term effect,” said Kyte.

“Most patients that experience a recurrence or progression of the disease cannot be cured. The traditional treatments only have a limited, short-term effect on them. But immunotherapy may have a long-term effect on the patient – and, in some cases, even cure the disease.”

 

Two big challenges

Immunotherapy may sound like a miracle drug, but researchers still have a long way to go to perfect the treatment for all cancer patients. Kyte highlights two of the biggest barriers that remain.

“One challenge is to develop immunotherapy so that it works efficiently on all types of cancer. The other challenge is to learn how to choose personalised treatment plans: to identify an individual’s biomarkers and find out which treatment will be effective for that specific patient.”

A biomarker is a biological molecule in the patient’s body and these may be used to see how well a patient will respond to a certain treatment. Kyte said that to develop immunotherapy, there needs to be more clinical trials. It is the only way for researchers to find out how to activate an immune response in the patient’s body.

“A big potential for development lies in trying different possible combinations of cancer treatments. In my clinical trials, for example, we combine immunotherapy with immunogenic chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” Kyte explained.

 

Jon Amund Kyte presenting the Clinical Trial Unit.

The Clinical Trial Unit are experts in assisting companies and researchers to conduct clinical trials in Norway.

 

Welcome, companies

OUH has a long history of conducting clinical trials and is an appealing option for both researchers, doctors and companies that wish to initiate their own trials. Kyte welcomes more companies to conduct clinical trials at OUH:

“The more clinical trials that are conducted here by companies, the stronger our clinical research environment becomes and our ability to run our own studies is also strengthened.”

The Clinical Trial Unit in Kyte’s department offers its services to companies that want to run a clinical trial at OUH. They have extensive background knowledge of how the hospital is organised and which approvals are needed to conduct a clinical trial in Norway. They can step in as project coordinator for companies that need help to get their clinical trials up and running.

“We are highly experienced in applying for approvals in Norway. When you run a clinical trial, there are regulations from the Norwegian Medicines Agency and the ethical committee and other governmental agencies. A clinical trial also involves many different parts of the hospital – the departments of pathology and radiology, the laboratories, the infusion unit, the hospital wards and out-patient clinic and the administrative offices that oversee different agreements, data management and biobanking.”

 

Nordic clinical trials

All these administrative obstacles may appear discouraging, but there are many convincing reasons to conduct a clinical trial in Norway.

“The Oslo University Hospital is a good place to run a clinical trial, because in terms of the number of cancer patients, it is one of the largest hospitals in Europe. Norwegian healthcare is also extremely well-organised. Patients are rarely lost to follow-up, because there are no private healthcare alternatives and patients rarely move out of the country,” Kyte explained.

The Clinical Trial Unit is also taking part in the development Nordic Nect, a collaboration to recruit patients from the entire Nordic region to clinical trials. The plan is to have one hospital where the clinical study is conducted and to involve patients from Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. There will then be a population of 25 million people from which to recruit patients, which opens the possibility for larger clinical trials.

“This is a good thing for the companies that want to run clinical trials in Norway. It is also good for the researchers. But most of all, it is good for the patients – who have the opportunity to take part in more novel cancer treatments,” said Kyte.