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Lung cancer stem cell therapy gets UK trial

9 March 2015
Appeared in BioNews 793

A combined stem cell and gene therapy for lung cancer will get its first clinical trial in the UK, the Medical Research Council (MRC) has announced.

The potential treatment - which will be tested on 56 NHS patients - uses genetically modified stem cells to deliver an anti-cancer protein called TRAIL (Tumour Necrosis Factor related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand) to tumours.

TRAIL activates a self-destruct pathway in cancer cells, but not in healthy cells. Tests in mice showed that it can reduce tumour size, and in 38 percent of mice the therapy was able to completely clear the tumours.

Professor Sam Janes, of University College London, who will lead the trial, said: 'We aim to improve prospects for lung cancer patients by using a highly targeted therapy using stem cells, which have an innate tendency to home to home in on tumours when they’re injected into the body. Once there, they switch on a "kill" pathway in the cancer cells, leaving healthy surrounding cells untouched.'

More than 40,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK each year, with 90 percent of these cases caused by smoking. Of those diagnosed, 95 percent will die within ten years. Chemotherapy, says Professor Janes, 'can normally only extend lives by a handful of months'.

The treatment will first be tested for safety on human volunteers, then on the 56 metastatic lung cancer patients to see how it compares with standard care.

Each patient will receive billions of cells in three infusions, alongside normal chemotherapy. This means that over the next three years 100 billion cells will be created at the Royal Free Hospital's cell manufacturing lab. Crucially, the cells do not need to be grown from the patient or relative's own cells, as they have few surface proteins and are thought unlikely to provoke an immune reaction.

Dr Chris Watkins, director of translational research at the MRC, who oversees the organisation's Biomedical Catalyst, which will provide £2 million of funding for the trial, said: 'Lung cancer kills more men and women than any other cancer and improving the outcome for patients with this terrible disease is one of the biggest challenges we face. This new therapy, which uses modified stem cells to target the tumour directly is truly at the cutting edge and will draw on the UK’s unique position as a leader in the field of cell-based therapies.'

Combination cell-gene therapy for lung cancer to be tested in UK patients
Medical Research Council (press release) |  6 March 2015
Lung cancer stem cell therapy to be trialled in UK
The Guardian |  6 March 2015
UK will trial stem cell/gene therapy in lung cancer
PharmaTimes |  6 March 2015
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