In a recent Moves in Medicine by 6ABC, the importance of clinical trials is highlighted as a rare form of cancer (melanoma of the toe) that ultimately killed Reggae star Bob Marley was already at stage 3 for Stephanie Heart of Harleysville, Pennsylvania. When doctors performed a procedure on the toe, they found the cancer had reached Stage 3 and now in the lymph nodes. In a race against this rare form of the cancer, doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center put Ms. Heart on full-body immunotherapy. This treatment offered at the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center research trial site in the Fox Chasse section in North Philadelphia was made possible due to the hundreds of clinical trials and ongoing participation. Currently, Fox Chase is running 127 cancer trials and 17 melanoma-focused trials alone.
Immunotherapy at Fox Chase
Immunotherapy is a treatment regimen that’s based on the body’s own immune system, harnessed to fight off the cancer. The immune system consists of many different kinds of cells that patrol the bloodstream for invaders and abnormal cells that could be cancer. With immunotherapy, the immune cells are actually engineered and trained to recognize and fight particular cancers. Fox Chase Cancer Center considers itself at the forefront of progressing this class of therapy.
Joseph Treat, MD a lung cancer specialist, notes, “Fox Chase has been a major figure in the development of immunotherapy. One of our early trials led to approval of one of the immunotherapy drugs. Today, we have multiple researchers asking us to run their trials for new immunotherapy drugs. There’s a real depth of leadership and experience in this area, and a commitment to further studies.”
· Checkpoint Inhibitors—empower the patient’s own immune cells to identify and attack tumors. Checkpoint inhibitors actually disrupt the process cancer cells often use to hide from the immune system.
· CAR T-Cell Therapy—this approach uses the patient’s own T cells to destroy cancer cells. The T cells are taken from the patient, modified and engineered so that they can recognize the cancer, and infused bac into the patient to fight the cancer
· Oncolytic Viruses—selectively infect and kill cancer cells. Existing viruses are modified to be programmed to selectively seek out and destroy identified cancers
· Vaccines—designed to get the immune system to attack abnormal cells—including cancerous cells. One vaccine is currently approved in America for treatment-resistant advanced prostate therapy and many others are in the pipeline.
· Monoclonal Antibodies—While the immune system produces antibodies (a protein) to help fight infection, by circulating throughout the body, hunting for invaders or foreign substances. mAbs are molecules produced in a lab that are engineered tom mimic or enhance the way the body’s immune system kills cancer
Fox Chase runs numerous clinical trials every year. With 127 active cancer-related clinical trials, Dr. Anthony Olszanski, the treatment physician/investigator for Ms. Heart, is currently leading 17 melanoma-focused trials alone.
Dr. Olszanksi emphasizes that clinical trials are open for almost everyone. And with cancer, entering a study could make a difference between life or death as in some cases clinical research is a preferred treatment pathway hence the importance of the clinical research as a care option movement.
The physician/researcher also shared for the recent news release that immunotherapy was around thanks to the thousands of volunteers participating in studies. He commented, “Sometimes we find medications which really do look like they’re targeting something that we’ve not been able to target before,” he said. “Clinical trials can offer hope, in a situation where they might not have other treatment opportunities.”
Ms. Heart credits clinical trials for saving her life, noting, “Because if they hadn’t been done, there would be no immunotherapy. And melanoma was a death sentence. Even 10 years ago. It was a death sentence.”
About Fox Chase Cancer Center
Fox Chase Cancer Center is a NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center research facility and hospital located in the northern end of Philadelphia, the center is part of the Temple University Health System (TUHS) and specializes in the treatment and prevention of cancer. The center was formed in 1974 by the merger of the American Oncologic Hospital (founded in 1904 and the first cancer hospital in the USA) and the Institute for Cancer Research (founded in 1927).
Lead Research/Investigator Fox Chase
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