In California, the number of HIV infected individuals continues to increase. As anti-retroviral drugs are not curative, these individuals still have to deal with the emotional, financial, and medical consequences. Our HIV stem cell gene therapy approach comprises the transplantation of a purified population of HIV-resistant blood forming stem cells which would generate an HIV-resistant immune system in a patient’s body. This would be significantly compelling to the state of California.
As the largest provider of bone marrow cell transplants in California, and the second largest in the nation, our institution has great expertise and an excellent record of safety in the delivery of stem cell treatments. We now propose to create the Alpha Clinic for Cell Therapy and Innovation (ACT-I) in which new, state-of-the-art, stem cell treatments for cancer and devastating blood-related diseases will be conducted and evaluated. As these experimental therapies prove to be effective, and become routine practice, our ACT-I Program will serve as the clinical center for delivery of these treatments. ACT-I will be an integral part of our Hematologic Malignancy and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute, placing it in the center of our institutional strengths, expertise, infrastructure and investment over the next decade. To move quickly once the CIRM award is made, ACT-I can be launched within our institution’s Day Hospital, a brand new, outpatient blood stem cell transplantation center opened in late 2013 with California Department of Health approval for 24 hour a day operation. This will ensure that ACT-I will have all the clinical and regulatory expertise, trained personnel, state-of-the-art facilities and other infrastructure in place to conduct first-in-human clinical trials and to deliver future, stem cell-based therapies for cancer and blood-related diseases, including AIDS. When our new Ambulatory Treatment Center is complete in 2018, it will double our capacity for patient visits and allow for expansion of the ACT-I pipeline of new stem cell products in a state-of-the-art facility.
Beyond our campus, we operate satellite clinics covering an area that includes urban, suburban and rural sites. More than 17.7 million people live in this area, and represent some of the greatest racial and ethnic diversity seen in any part of the country. Our ACT-I is prepared to serve a significant, diverse and underserved portion of the population of California.
CLINICAL TRIALS. Our proposal has two lead clinical trials that will be the first to be tested in ACT-I. One will deliver transplants of blood stem cells that have been modified to treat patients suffering from AIDS and lymphoma. The second will use neural stem cells to deliver drugs directly to cancer cells hiding in the brain. These studies represent some of the new and exciting biomedical technologies being developed at our institution. In addition to the two lead trials, we have several additional clinical studies poised to use and be tested in this special facility for clinical trials. In summary, ACT-I is well prepared to accommodate the long list of clinical trials and begin to fulfill the promise of providing new stem cell therapies for the citizens of California.
California’s citizens voted for the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act to support the development of stem cell-based therapies that treat incurable diseases and relieve human suffering. To achieve this goal, we propose to establish an Alpha Clinic for Cellular Therapies and Innovation (ACT-I) as an integral part of our Hematological Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute, and serve as the clinical center for the testing and delivery of new, cutting-edge, cellular treatments for cancer and other blood-related diseases. Our institution is uniquely well-suited to serve as a national leader in the study and delivery of stem cell therapeutics because we are the largest provider of stem cell transplants in California, and the second largest in the country. According to national benchmarking data, our Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation program is the only program in the nation to have achieved survival outcomes above expectation for each of the past nine years. This program currently offers financially sustainable, research-driven clinical care for patients with cancer, HIV and other life-threatening diseases. CIRM funding will allow the ACT-I clinic to ramp up quickly, drawing upon institutionally established protocols, personnel and infrastructure to conduct first-in-human clinical trials for assessment of efficacy. As CIRM funding winds down, ACT-I will have institutional support to offer proven cellular therapeutics to patients. The lead studies at the forefront of the ACT-I pipeline of clinical trials focus on treatments for HIV-1 infection and brain tumors, two devastating and incurable conditions. These first trials are closely followed by a robust queue of other stem cell therapeutics for leukemia, lymphoma, prostate cancer, brain cancers and thalassemia.
Our long list of proposed treatments addresses diseases that have a major impact on the lives of Californians. Thalassemia is found in up to 1 in 2,200 children born in California; prostate cancer affects 211,300 men, and HIV-1 infection occurs in 111,000 of our citizens. From 2008 to 2010, 6,705 Californians were diagnosed with brain cancers, 4,580 of whom died. In considering hematological malignancies during this same period, 2,800 patients were diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (416 died), 20,351 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (6,241 died), 13,358 with leukemia (6,961 died), 3,900 with acute myelogenous leukemia (2,972 died), 2,129 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (648 died) and 4,198 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (1,271 died). Standard of care fails in many cases; mortality rates for patients with hematological malignancies range from 25% to 76%. Successful stem cell therapeutics hold the promise to reduce disease-related mortality while improving disease-related survival and quality of life for the citizens of California, and for those affected by these diseases worldwide.
A goal of stem-cell therapy is to transplant into a patient “tissue-specific” stem cells, which can regenerate a particular type of healthy tissue (e.g., heart or blood cells). A major obstacle to this goal is obtaining tissue-specific stem cells that (1) are available in sufficient numbers; and (2) will not be rejected by the recipient. One approach to these challenges is to generate tissue-specific stem cells in the lab from “pluripotent” stem cells, which can produce all types of tissue-specific stem cells. The rationale is that pluripotent stem cells that will be tolerated are easier to directly obtain than tissue-specific stem cells that will be tolerated. Furthermore, descendants of a tolerated pluripotent stem cell will also be tolerated and can be produced abundantly.
The goal of the proposed project is to develop techniques for generating transplantable blood-forming stem cells from pluripotent stem cells. In pursuit of this goal, we will study how blood-forming stem cells arise during development. We will also test new methods--less toxic than current chemotherapy and radiation--for preparing recipients for transplantation of blood-forming stem cells.
Additional benefit: Successful transplantation of blood-forming stem cells allows the recipient to tolerate other tissue or organ transplants from the same donor. Thus, transplanted blood-forming stem cells could allow people to receive organs that they may otherwise reject, without taking immune-suppressing drugs.
We aim to generate from stem cells that can produce all tissues of the body those stem cells that specifically form blood. We will also test new methods--less toxic than current chemotherapy and radiation--for pretreatment before transplantation of blood-forming stem cells. A large number of patients in California could benefit from advances in this field, primarily those with diseases affecting the production of blood and immune cells: leukemia, lymphoma, thalassemia, certain types of anemia, immune deficiency diseases, autoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus), etc. For leukemia and lymphoma alone, in 2014 in California, there will be an estimated 12,060 newly diagnosed cases, 103,400 existing cases, and 4,620 deaths (per the California Cancer Registry). The cost of these blood cancers are difficult to estimate but they account for 6% of cancers in women and 9% in men in California, where the estimated cost of cancer per year is $28.3 billion.
The reagents generated in these studies can be patented, forming an intellectual property portfolio shared by the state. The funds generated from the licensing of these technologies will provide revenue for the state, help increase hiring of faculty and staff (many of whom will bring in other, out-of-state funds to support their research) and could reduce the costs of related clinical trials. Only California businesses are likely to be able to license these reagents and to develop them into diagnostic and therapeutic entities.
- The CIRM Genomics Data Coordination and Management Center has made steady progress on our milestones over the last six months. We continued development of a database that stores files and descriptive tags for stem cell genomics projects, and developed a web site that allows authorized users controlled access to these data. The site includes a file browser that displays quality statistics, labels, and tags for each file. For many file types, the file browser provides a link to the UCSC Genome Browser where the data inside the file appears as a track. We imported test data sets from the labs of Stephen Quake (CIP2, Stanford) and Michael Snyder (CIP1, Stanford) into a test version of the database. We imported our first CIRM-funded dataset from the Kristin Baldwin lab (Scripps) into a firewall-protected production version of the database. We interviewed several additional labs, some of which may have data ready by the next reporting period, and have started building software in anticipation of their needs.
- This grant has enabled a plethora of activities in California Stem Cell Genomics. The Stanford Administrative Core for the Center of Excellence in Stem Cell Genomics (CESCG) has been established and is responsible for overseeing joint center activities, and the administration of center-initiated projects (CIP) 1 and 2, and several collaborative research projects (CRP). In the first year of the award the CESCG administration organized monthly telephone conference calls to share research progress and coordinate activities across the Center. On May 1, 2015 the CESCG held its first center-wide retreat in a one-day event at Clark Center on the campus of the Stanford Medical School. The two CIPs have made significant progress. CIP1 has generated a valuable resource of 38 induced pluripotent stem cell lines and established a reliable platform for high throughput derivation of human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes for use in downstream high throughput toxicity and drug pharmacology screening assays. CIP2 has completed the first human single cell brain analysis and is in the process of deriving a single cell pancreatic map. We have launched our collaborative research progress grant. Following on the receipt of applications in October 2014 and successful review in January 2015, the Administrative Core at Stanford has also issued subcontract awards for 3 CRPs managed by the CESCG from the Northern California site – two comprehensive project awards CRP-C2 to Daniel Geschwind of UCLA and CRP-C3 to Arnold Kriegstein of UCSF, and a regular project award CRP-R4 to Jeremy Sanford of UCSC. These activities will transform stem cell research in California and continue its preeminence in this area.
Tumors contain a heterogeneous mix of cancer cells with distinct features, including subsets of particularly aggressive stem-like cells. Since a single cancer stem cell can self-renew, divide, and differentiate to reconstitute the heterogeneity of an entire tumor, the ability of one cell to evade therapy or surgical resection could lead to tumor re-growth and disease relapse.
Few, if any, individual markers have been capable of identifying cancer stem cells among distinct tumor types. It is therefore remarkable that we have detected enrichment of CD61 on stem-like cells within tumor biopsies from many different drug-resistant samples of lung, breast, pancreatic, and brain tumors from mice or humans.
CD61 promotes a stem-like reprogramming event, since ectopic expression CD61 induces stemness, including self-renewal, tumor-forming ability, and resistance to therapy. CD61 drives these behaviors by activating a signaling pathway which can be inhibited to reverse stemness and sensitize tumors to therapy.
Our project is focused on learning how CD61 drives this cancer stem cell program, and how the increase in CD61 could be prevented or reversed. If successful, our work will provide valuable new insight into a cancer stem cell program that is unexpectedly shared among a variety of solid tumor types.
The American Cancer Society estimates 171,330 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in California this year, a 10th of the national total. As part of an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer, we are uniquely positioned to translate our basic science research into clinical impact for the cancer patients within our community.
From a clinical perspective, the understanding gained from our proposed studies will broadly benefit patients in California who will be diagnosed with an epithelial cancer this year, including 25,360 new breast cancer patients and 18,720 new lung cancer patients. Gaining fundamental insight into how these cancers are reprogrammed to become more stem cell-like as they acquire resistance to therapy will facilitate development of new strategies to prevent or reverse this behavior to benefit these large numbers of patients who live in California. In addition, our work will also yield new diagnostic tools that could identify which patients might respond to certain therapies.
At the basic science level, our project will also serve to elucidate the mechanisms by which cancer stem cells contribute to cancer progression and response to therapy. During the course of our project, we will be able to train more people in California to work on this cutting-edge research, and to establish a foundation for the logical design of anti-cancer therapies targeting this unique cancer stem cell population.
- Cancers are often treated based on their underlying disease phenotype or molecular drivers. While these targeted strategies may provide some initial benefit, they tend to fail over time as tumors develop resistance mechanisms. Cancer stem cells, traditionally defined as a small population of “pre-existing” cells responsible for initiating a tumor, have been implicated as a major contributor to drug resistance. Although small in number, it is thought the population of cancer stem cells within a tumor could survive therapy to regenerate an entire tumor over time or spread to distant sites.
- We suggest an alternate scenario in which any cell within a tumor could be “converted” into a cancer stem-like cell. We have now demonstrated that exposing epithelial cancer cells to different types of stress, including cancer therapies, induces a subset of markers and functions attributed to traditional cancer stem cells. The goal of our project is to understand how a protein called CD61 drives this reprogramming event so that we can design approaches to interfere with this pathway in order to lock cancer cells into a less aggressive and more therapy-responsive state.
- In the past year, we have defined a common subset of cancer stem cell features that are induced by CD61 in response to multiple types of cellular stress. These stresses represent those that a tumor cell might encounter within its microenvironment, including nutrient deprivation, hypoxia, or cancer therapy. Interestingly, we have also discovered that these changes are reversible and that tumor cells can be “primed” to respond to stress so that they can rapidly adopt the stem-like features to evade the effects of therapy.
- We have also identified specific upstream drivers required for the induction of CD61 by stress, and we have shown that they are necessary and sufficient to trigger CD61. In addition, we are beginning to understand how CD61 orchestrates the conversion of an epithelial cancer cell into a stem-like cancer cell by altering the location and function of downstream signaling proteins. Work in the upcoming year will focus on identifying specific steps along the pathway that could be manipulated therapeutically to prevent this reprogramming of cancer cells that contributes to drug resistance and disease progression.
Cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Many believe that progress in drug development has not been as rapid as one would have predicted based on the significant technological advancements that have led to improved molecular understanding of this disease. There are numerous explanations for the lag in clinical success with new therapeutics. However, work in the past decade has provided support for what has become known as the cancer stem cell hypothesis. This model suggests that there is a class of cells that are the main drivers of tumor growth that are resistant to standard treatments. In one model the cancer stem cells inhabit an anatomical “niche” that prevents drug efficacy. Another view is one in which tumors can achieve resistance by cell fate decisions in which some tumor cells are killed by therapeutics, while other cells avoid this fate by choosing to become cancer stem cells. These stem cells are thought to be capable of both cancer stem cell renewal and repopulation of the tumor.
Our proposal aims to conduct a Phase I clinical trial of a first-in-class mitotic inhibitor. The target is a serine/threonine kinase that was originally selected because blocking this target affects both tumor cell lines and tumor initiating cells (TICs). Our data suggest that the target kinase functions at the intersection of mitotic regulation, DNA damage and repair, and cell fate decisions associated with stem cell renewal. Preclinical work has begun to segregate “sensitive” and “resistant” groups of tumor cell lines and TICs after treatment with the drug candidate as a single agent and in combination with standard-of-care therapeutics. Our data also support the model in which cancer stem cell resistance is likely to arise, at least in some cases, due to stem cell fate decisions that happen in response to therapeutic intervention.
This grant is a natural progression of work partially funded by CIRM that enabled the isolation of Tumor Initiating Cells (TICs)from tumors in different tissue types. This facilitated the development and assessment of drug candidates that target both bulk tumor cells and TICs and has now led to the development of a potential anti-cancer drug which we are now preparing to test in humans. The goal of the Phase I trial is to determine the maximum tolerated dose, the recommended Phase II dose, and any dose-limiting toxicities. We will also characterize safety, pharmacokinetic, and pharmacodynamic profiles along with any antitumor activity. Once the maximum tolerated dose has been identified, a biomarker expansion cohort will be opened in order to determine whether appropriately selected biomarkers are associated with a predictable patient response. This will allow a rational approach to study single agent and combination studies that perturb this network and allow us the opportunity to facilitate a targeted clinical development plan.
It has been estimated, by the California Department of Public Health, that in 2013 about 145,000 Californians will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 55,000 of these will ultimately succumb to their disease. Furthermore, more than 1.3 million Californians are living today with a history of cancer. Therefore, innovative research programs that are able to impact this devastating disease burden are likely to have a large potential benefit to the state of California and its residents.
This grant application proposes a Phase I clinical trial for a first-in-class inhibitor of a target that has never been tested in patients. The aim of this trial is to determine the maximum tolerated dose in humans, the recommended dose for phase II trials, and evaluate any dose-limiting toxicities. The trial will also characterize safety, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamic properties. It will also provide early insight into any antitumor activity.
Our group has developed a comprehensive unbiased platform that facilitates the segregation of sensitive and resistant populations of cancer based on their molecular subtypes. This capability has the promise to improve the success rate and reduce the cost of oncology clinical trials by focusing on the subsets that are most likely to benefit while avoiding unnecessarily treating patients that would otherwise benefit from alternative treatments. Our preliminary pre-clinical work, funded by CIRM in the context of a Disease Team I award, suggests that this approach can be successfully applied to the networks associated with mitotic regulation, DNA repair, and stem-cell fate decisions. Our ongoing research has tested a number of chemical compounds that are able to block pathways that are critical to the growth and proliferation of many cancer models. These compounds have all been tested in multiple in vitro and in vivo systems and have been found to inhibit the ability of the cancer stem cell to repopulate. Now that our pre-clinical enabling studies have been completed, we have submitted an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA for a first-in-human phase I clinical trial. In the current proposal, we will be able to test our hypotheses in a clinical setting, which if successful will lead to confirmation of safety and the establishment of the appropriate dose with which to test in later stage trials. This trial will set the stage for a new class of agents that has not yet been tested in clinical settings.
We believe that the proposal described herein has the promise to expand the reach of targeted therapies into mechanisms that in most cases have been resistant to innovation. Finally, it is reasonable to expect that our preclinical work and the proposed clinical trials will validate a number of potential biomarkers that will identify susceptible patient subpopulations.
- Over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that cancer is a diverse disease where the treatments must be individualized. In the last year alone, 8 new drugs have received FDA approvals to treat cancers ranging from those that originate in the bone marrow (lymphoma, or myeloma) to “solid” tumors (eg breast or lung cancer). Most new drug development focuses on identifying subgroups that are more likely to respond and therefore derive benefit from these new agents. Along these lines, the attraction of attacking the cancer stem cell has become a priority. The cancer stem cell model suggests that there is a class of cells that are the main drivers of tumor growth that are resistant to standard treatments. This model even implies that tumors can achieve resistance by cell fate decisions in which some tumor cells are killed by therapeutics which makes the relevance of new drug development even more critical.
- In our proposal, we are conducting a first in human Phase I clinical trial of a first-in-class mitotic inhibitor. The target is a serine/threonine kinase that was originally selected because blocking this target affects both tumor cell lines and tumor initiating cells (TICs). But, compared to chemotherapy, it appears to decrease more of the tumor initiating cell population in many cancer models. We have been able to identify those pre-clinical models that will predict which cancer are sensitive and which are resistant. The goal of our Phase I trial is to determine the maximum tolerated dose, the recommended Phase II dose, and any dose-limiting toxicities. We will further characterize safety, pharmacokinetic, and pharmacodynamic profiles along with any antitumor activity. In the last year, we have enrolled many patients and we are starting to develop a sense of how this drug works and in which cancers it may have the most potential relevance. Once the maximum tolerated dose has been identified, a biomarker expansion cohort will be opened in order to determine whether appropriately selected biomarkers are associated with a predictable patient response. This will allow a rational approach to study single agent and combination studies and allow us the opportunity to facilitate a targeted clinical development plan.
Most normal tissues are maintained by a small number of stem cells that can both self-renew to maintain stem cell numbers, and also give rise to progenitors that make mature cells. We have shown that normal stem cells can accumulate mutations that cause progenitors to self-renew out of control, forming cancer stem cells (CSC). CSC make tumors composed of cancer cells, which are more sensitive to cancer drugs and radiation than the CSC. As a result, some CSC survive therapy, and grow and spread. We sought to find therapies that include all CSC as targets. We found that all cancers and their CSC protect themselves by expressing a ‘don’t eat me’ signal, called CD47, that prevents the innate immune system macrophages from eating and killing them. We have developed a novel therapy (anti-CD47 blocking antibody) that enables macrophages to eliminate both the CSC and the tumors they produce. This anti-CD47 antibody eliminates human cancer stem cells when patient cancers are grown in mice. At the time of funding of this proposal, we will have fulfilled FDA requirements to take this antibody into clinical trials, showing in animal models that the antibody is safe and well-tolerated, and that we can manufacture it to FDA specifications for administration to humans.
Here, we propose the initial clinical investigation of the anti-CD47 antibody with parallel first-in-human Phase 1 clinical trials in patients with either Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) or separately a diversity of solid tumors, who are no longer candidates for conventional therapies or for whom there are no further standard therapies. The primary objectives of our Phase I clinical trials are to assess the safety and tolerability of anti-CD47 antibody. The trials are designed to determine the maximum tolerated dose and optimal dosing regimen of anti-CD47 antibody given to up to 42 patients with AML and up to 70 patients with solid tumors. While patients will be clinically evaluated for halting of disease progression, such clinical responses are rare in Phase I trials due to the advanced illness and small numbers of patients, and because it is not known how to optimally administer the antibody. Subsequent progression to Phase II clinical trials will involve administration of an optimal dosing regimen to larger numbers of patients. These Phase II trials will be critical for evaluating the ability of anti-CD47 antibody to either delay disease progression or cause clinical responses, including complete remission. In addition to its use as a stand-alone therapy, anti-CD47 antibody has shown promise in preclinical cancer models in combination with approved anti-cancer therapeutics to dramatically eradicate disease. Thus, our future clinical plans include testing anti-CD47 antibody in Phase IB studies with currently approved cancer therapeutics that produce partial responses. Ultimately, we hope anti-CD47 antibody therapy will provide durable clinical responses in the absence of significant toxicity.
Cancer is a leading cause of death in the US accounting for approximately 30% of all mortalities. For the most part, the relative distribution of cancer types in California resembles that of the entire country. Current treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of these interventions ("multimodal therapy"). These treatments target rapidly dividing cells, carcinogenic mutations, and/or tumor-specific proteins. A recent NIH report indicated that among adults, the combined 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers is approximately 68%. While this represents an improvement over the last decade or two, cancer causes significant morbidity and mortality to the general population as a whole.
New insights into the biology of cancer have provided a potential explanation for the challenge of treating cancer. An increasing number of scientific studies suggest that cancer is initiated and maintained by a small number of cancer stem cells that are relatively resistant to current treatment approaches. Cancer stem cells have the unique properties of continuous propagation, and the ability to give rise to all cell types found in that particular cancer. Such cells are proposed to persist in tumors as a distinct population, and because of their increased ability to survive existing anti-cancer therapies, they regenerate the tumor and cause relapse and metastasis. Cancer stem cells and their progeny produce a cell surface ‘invisibility cloak’ called CD47, a ‘don’t eat me signal’ for cells of the native immune system to counterbalance ‘eat me’ signals which appear during cancer development. Our anti-CD47 antibody counters the ‘cloak’, enabling the patient’s natural immune system to eliminate the cancer stem cells and cancer cells. Our preclinical data provide compelling support that anti-CD47 antibody might be a treatment strategy for many different cancer types, including breast, bladder, colon, ovarian, glioblastoma, leiomyosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and acute myelogenous leukemia.
Development of specific therapies that target all cancer stem cells is necessary to achieve improved outcomes, especially for sufferers of metastatic disease. We hope our clinical trials proposed in this grant will indicate that anti-CD47 antibody is a safe and highly effective anti-ancer therapy that offers patients in California and throughout the world the possibility of increased survival and even complete cure.
- We have previously developed a new therapeutic candidate, the anti-CD47 humanized antibody, Hu5F9-G4, which demonstrates potent anti-cancer activity in animal models of malignancy. The goal of CIRM DTIII Grant DR3-06965 is to conduct initial phase I clinical trials of this antibody in advanced cancer patients. We originally proposed to conduct two separate Phase I clinical trials: one in solid tumor patients with advanced malignancy (commenced in August 2014), the other in relapsed, refractory AML patients (anticipated to start in September 2015). The primary endpoints for these trials will be to assess safety and tolerability, and additional endpoints include obtaining information about the dosing regimen for subsequent clinical investigations, and initial efficacy assessments.
- CD47 is a dominant anti-phagocytosis signal that is expressed on all types of human cancers assessed thus far. It binds to SIRPα, an inhibitory receptor on macrophages, and in so doing, blocks the ability of macrophages to engulf and eliminate cancer cells. Hu5F9-G4 blocks binding of CD47 to SIRPα, and restores the ability of macrophages to engulf or phagocytose cancer cells. In pre-clinical cancer models, treatment with Hu5F9-G4 shrunk tumors, eliminated metastases, and in some cases resulted in long-term protection from cancer recurrence. These results suggest that Hu5F9-G4 leads to elimination of cancer stem cells in addition to differentiated cancer cells.
- We have developed Hu5F9-G4 for human clinical trials by demonstrating safety and tolerability in pre-clinical toxicology studies. These studies also indicated that we can achieve serum levels associated with potent efficacy in pre-clinical models. The regulatory agencies (FDA in the U.S., and MHRA in the U.K.) reviewed the large package of pre-clinical data describing Hu5F9-G4, and approved our requests to commence separate Phase I clinical trials in solid tumor and AML patients. The solid tumor trial commenced at Stanford in August 2014 and has been designed to assess patients in separate groups, or cohorts, treated with increasing doses of Hu5F9-G4. The trial is ongoing as primary endpoints have not been met. The acute myeloid leukemia trial has been given regulatory approval in the U.K., and will start enrolling patients in September 2015. In summary, during the last year, the Hu5F9-G4 clinical trials have made substantial progress and all milestones have been met.
Cancer is a leading cause of death in California. Research has found that many cancers can spread throughout the body and resist current anti-cancer therapies because of cancer stem cells, or CSC. CSC can be considered the seeds of cancer; they can resist being killed by anti-cancer drugs and can lay dormant, sometimes for long periods, before growing into active cancers at the original tumor site, or at distant sites throughout the body. Required are therapies that can kill CSC while not harming normal stem cells, which are needed for making blood and other cells that must be replenished. We have discovered a protein on the surface of CSC that is not present on normal cells of healthy adults. This protein, called ROR1, ordinarily is found only on cells during early development in the embryo. CSC have co-opted the use of ROR1 to promote their survival, proliferation, and spread throughout the body. We have developed a monoclonal antibody that is specific for ROR1 and that can inhibit these functions, which are vital for CSC. Because this antibody does not bind to normal cells, it can serve as the “magic bullet” to deliver a specific hit to CSC. We will conduct clinical trials with the antibody, first in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia to define the safety and best dose to use. Then we plan to conduct clinical trials involving patients with other types of cancer. To prepare for such clinical trials, we will use our state-of-the-art model systems to investigate the best way to eradicate CSC of other intractable leukemias and solid tumors. Finally, we will investigate the potential for using this antibody to deliver toxins selectively to CSC. This selective delivery could be very active in killing CSC without harming normal cells in the body because they lack expression of ROR1. With this antibody we can develop curative stem-cell-directed therapy for patients with any one of many different types of currently intractable cancers.
The proposal aims to develop a novel anti-cancer-stem-cell (CSC) targeted therapy for patients with intractable malignancies. This therapy involves use of a fully humanized monoclonal antibody specific for a newly identified, CSC antigen called ROR1. This antibody was developed under the auspices of a CIRM disease team I award and is being readied for phase I clinical testing involving patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Our research has revealed that the antibody specifically reacts with CSC of other leukemias and many solid-tumor cancers, but does not bind to normal adult tissues. Moreover, it has functional activity in blocking the growth and survival of CSC, making it ideal for directing therapy intended to eradicate CSC of many different cancer types, without affecting normal adult stem cells or other normal tissues. As such, treatment could avoid the devastating physical and financial adverse effects associated with many standard anti-cancer therapies. Also, because this therapy attacks the CSC, it might prove to be a curative treatment for California patients with any one of a variety different types of currently intractable cancers.
Beyond the significant benefit to the patients and families that are dealing with cancer, this project will also strengthen the position of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine as a leader in cancer stem cell biology, and will deliver intellectual property to the state of California that may then be licensed to pharmaceutical companies.
In summary, the benefits to the citizens of California from the CIRM disease team 3 grant are:
(1) Direct benefit to the thousands of patients with cancer
(2) Financial savings through definitive treatment that obviates costly maintenance or salvage therapies for patients with intractable cancers
(3) Potential for an anti-cancer therapy with a high therapeutic index
(4) Intellectual property of a broadly active uniquely targeted anti-CSC therapeutic agent.
- Dormant cancer stem cells (CSC) evade therapies that target dividing cells and promote drug-resistance, relapse, and metastasis. Despite advances in molecularly targeted therapy, therapeutic resistance and relapse, driven by self-renewing CSC, remain major therapeutic challenges in common hematologic malignancies like chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). As a result of a CIRM HALT leukemia disease team grant, we were able to pre-clinically inhibit CSC survival in CLL and a broad array of other advanced malignancy models by developing a monoclonal antibody, cirmtuzumab (UC-961), which targets the Wnt5A receptor, ROR1. Cirmtuzumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody (mAb) that binds with high-affinity to a proprietary, extracellular epitope of ROR1, which we defined as an onco-embryonic antigen. While ROR1 is not expressed on adult hematopoietic stem cells or other normal post-partum tissues, it is highly expressed on the cell-surface of CSC in CLL. Cirmtuzumab does not bind to normal adult tissues, but has unique functional activity against CSC by targeting ROR1, which acts in a niche-dependent fashion. In preclinical models, shRNA-silencing of ROR1 was shown to impair activation of phospho-AKT/CREB, increases spontaneous apoptosis, and inhibit the proliferation, migration, and metastatic potential of CSC in a manner similar to cirmtuzumab. In addition, cirmtuzumab inhibits the capacity of CSC to to propagate CLL in immune-deficient mice. Finally, cirmtuzumab induced rapid internalization of ROR1, thereby inhibiting CSC survival. Based on these unique features, we proceeded with the cirmtuzumab clinical development plan under the auspices of the CIRM disease team 3 grant.
- Over the last year, this CIRM Disease team grant has enabled filing and FDA approval of an investigational new drug application (IND) for cirmtuzumab as well as the implementation and administration of an ongoing first-in-human Phase 1A clinical trial to assess safety and tolerability in patients with CLL who are not amenable to standard therapy. In keeping with the FDA IND-approved intra-patient dose escalation schema and related cirmtuzumab administration timeline, our team has enrolled 8 patients to the Phase lA clinical trial at UC San Diego for patients with relapsed or refractory CLL since 8/29/15. In particular, we have now completed enrollment of the first and second dose cohorts (doses: 15 mcg/kg and 30 mcg/kg for cohort 1; 60 mcg/kg, 120 mcg/kg, and 240 mcg/kg for cohort 2). There have been no observed grade 2 or higher adverse events attributed to cirmtuzumab. Two patients have now enrolled and initiated therapy in the third dose cohort (planned doses 500 mcg/kg and 1 mg/kg). While durable clinical responses have not been observed at these low doses, there has been evidence of biological activity and clinical benefit with stabilization of disease in some patients. This has prompted the development of a Phase 1B clinical trial, currently under review at our IRB and at CIRM, to allow patients that have derived some benefit from cirmtuzumab treatment to receive additional doses and to determine if longer term treatment provides for enhanced clinical benefit while retaining an excellent safety profile.
- Correlative biomarkers include flow cytometric analyses that address disease heterogeneity and are suggestive of decreased ROR1 expression in the more recent dosing cohorts that may be used in the future to predict clinical outcome. In cohorts that demonstrate signs of sustained clinical responses, we will examine the activity of cirmtuzumab-based treatments in eradicating ROR1+ CSC by flow cytometry. Pharmacokinetic assessments are ongoing but cirmtuzumab plasma levels appear to correlate with response in the more recent higher dose cohort. In addition, we will examine the activity and anticipated therapeutic index (TI) of cirmtuzumab in relapsed/refactory CLL. If one or more of these tests meet milestones, then clinical studies of regimens with the highest apparent TI will be conducted in years 3-4. Upon completion of our program, we will deliver a cirmtuzumab-based therapeutic that will be suitable for registration and/or pivotal clinical trials and facilitate commercialization of this novel cancer stem-cell targeted therapy for Californians with cancer.