While current treatment strategies for high-grade glioma can yield short term benefits, their inability to eradicate the highly tumorigenic cancer stem cell population results in disease recurrence in the vast majority of patients. Stem cells and some cancer cells (the targets of our therapy) share many common characteristics, including the ability to self-renew and grow indefinitely. These stem cell-like cancer cells are also resistant to many standard therapies including radiation and chemotherapy, creating a critical need for novel therapies that will efficiently eliminate this cell population. The goal of this project is to develop and optimize a therapeutic strategy, termed “adoptive T cell therapy,” that will eliminate the brain tumor stem cell population by re-directing a patient’s immune cells, specifically T cells, to recognize and destroy tumor stem cells. Our goal is a therapy in which a single administration of tumor-specific T cells results in long-term anti-glioma protection. Our approach builds on our previous pre-clinical and clinical findings that T cells, when reprogrammed, can potently kill glioma stem cells.
Over the past year, our group has developed and characterized an optimized next-generation adoptive T cell therapy platform for targeting the glioma-associated antigen IL13Rα2. As such, T cells were modified to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to recognize and kill IL13Rα2-expressing glioma cells. This T cell platform incorporates several improvements in CAR design and T cell engineering, including improved receptor signaling and the utilization of central memory T cells (Tcm) as the starting cell population for CAR-engineering for enhanced long-term persistence of the cells after they are administered to patients. Importantly, we now demonstrate that this optimized IL13Rα2-specific CAR Tcm therapeutic product mediates superior antitumor efficacy and improved T cell persistence as compared to our previous first-generation IL13Rα2-specific T cells. These findings are significant as they suggest the potential for improving the transient anti-glioma responses for patients, as observed in two Phase I clinical trials by our group at City of Hope, with this optimized next-generation platform.
The variability of gliomas, including the known differences between populations of glioma stem-like cells, is a critical barrier to the development of a therapy with the potential to mediate complete and durable remission of this disease. We have therefore hypothesized that a multi-targeted therapeutic approach will be required to achieve elimination of glioma stem-like cells and achieve longer lasting regression of high-grade glioma. To devise an effective multi-target therapy, one must first identify the potentially useful T cell target antigens and variations in their expression between patients and within individual tumors. The ideal target will be highly expressed on tumor cells, including stem-like cells, and not found on normal brain or other tissues. To this end, we have assembled a cohort of 35 patient samples in commercial tissue arrays and 45 patient specimens from the CoH Department of Pathology. Within this group of 80 patient tumors we have begun to examine expression of potential T cell targets, such as IL13Rα2, HER2, EGFR, and others. The goal is to find a set of target antigens that would encompass the maximum number of tumors and, in particular, the cancer stem-like cells within an individual tumor.
Our progress thus far has set the stage for our team to develop a potent multi-antigen specific T cell therapy that can “box-in” tumor variability. This clinically translatable platform has the potential to provide new treatment options for this devastating disease.