A new form of immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer was approved for a clinical trial last February: the study will involve 64 patients with advanced, untreatable cancer, who will be given infusions of “Natural Killer” (NK) cells obtained from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
The research of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, led by Dr. Dan Kaufman – director of the cell therapy department and professor of medicine at the University’s Division of Regenerative Medicine – was published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine and then approved for the first phase of clinical trial by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
Dr. Kaufman and his team of researchers managed to find the method to develop a significant number of NK cells from human iPS cells for cancer therapy. The iPS are produced in the laboratory from adult stem cells that are “reprogrammed” (induced) so that they return to an embryonic state. In this way, reprogrammed cells can be differentiated into any cell type, property for which they are defined as pluripotent.
For this research, iPS cells have been matured into NK cells, i.e. specialized immune cells that are particularly aggressive against cancer cells. «This is a landmark accomplishment for the field of stem cell-based medicine and cancer immunotherapy. This clinical trial represents the first use of cells produced from human induced pluripotent stem cells to better treat and fight cancer,» says Dr. Kaufman.
The use of iPS allows researchers to produce a never-ending stream of cells, as they only need a robust method to transform iPS into any other cell type. In addition, since they do not need to be matched to a specific patient, the researchers affirm that the FT500 treatment – so called by the team – can be administered in the outpatient setting as an off-the-shelf cell product, significantly reducing the time and resources required for the treatment of patients.
«If this works, patients can be treated “en masse” with these cells, given and administered like other drugs, but are living cellular products,» explains Dr. Sandip Patel, who follows one of the patients enrolled in the trial.
The main objectives of the trial are to evaluate the safety and efficacy of treatment; determine the extent to which tumors respond to cell therapy with NK; find out how long cells remain in the body of patients. This clinical trial could pave the way not only for a new generation of immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, but also for other cell therapies derived from iPS cells.
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