Award Helps Advance Gastroesophogeal Cancer Immunotherapy

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Jefferson Researcher awarded DeGregorio Foundation grant of $175,000 grant to study the effectiveness of CAR-T therapy as a treatment for gastroesophageal cancers.

The DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research & Education has awarded Adam Snook, PhD, of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson $175,000 grant to study the effectiveness of CAR-T therapy as a treatment for gastroesophageal cancers.

Chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) treatment is a type of immunotherapy which takes a patient’s own immune cells—specifically white blood cells called T cells—and reprograms them to attack tumors. Previously, CAR-T cell therapy has not been successful in treating gastroesophageal cancers due to the absence of an antigen target—a substance that stimulates an immune response in the body. Dr. Snook’s lab has recently developed an adoptive cell therapy prototype for metastatic colorectal cancer using an enzyme in the intestine called guanylyl cyclase C (GUCY2C) as an antigen target.

With the grant, Dr. Snook, along with a team of Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) collaborators all of whom are members of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson—surgeon Jordan Winter, MD, FACS; biostatistician Tingting Zhan, PhD; and pathologist/anatomist/cell biologist Wei Jiang, MD, PhD—will further explore the effectiveness of this treatment.

“Gastroesophageal cancers are fatal in more than seventy percent of cases, and new therapies are greatly needed,” said Dr. Snook, who is a member of the Gastrointestinal Program at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson. “We’ve identified GUCY2C as a new target for adoptive cell therapy in colorectal cancer, and recently discovered its expression by other gastrointestinal cancers, including stomach and esophagus, creating an opportunity to treat these fatal diseases with GUCY2C CAR-T cell therapy, also.”

“The research funded by this grant has the potential to be truly ground-breaking. While CAR-T cell therapy has been effective in a subset of blood-based cancers, success in directing CAR-T cells to attack solid tumors (such as gastroesophageal cancers) has been limited. We are enthusiastic about the promise of Dr. Snook’s studies, and thankful to the DeGregorio Foundation for support of this cutting-edge research project”, said Dr. Knudsen, Director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

While the research is promising, further investigation is needed in order to support an FDA Investigational New Drug application for Phase I testing of GUCY2C CAR-T cell therapy in gastroesophageal cancer.

“This award is vital to our development of this therapy, and brings us closer to delivering it to patients.” Dr. Snook says.

The DeGregorio Foundation was formed in 2006 after a tenth member of the DeGregorio family succumbed to stomach cancer due to a rare gene that causes the disease. Its goal is to raise funds for research and education, and to encourage collaboration among researchers in order to develop methods for earlier diagnosis and novel treatment therapies for stomach and esophageal cancers.

“The Foundation exists in the hope that we will be the last generation to experience the tragic, premature loss of family from these kinds of cancers,” says Lynn DeGregorio, president and founder of the Pleasantville, NY-based Foundation.

For Media Only, Contact: Edyta Zielinska, edyta.zielinska(at)jefferson(dot)edu, 215-955-7359.

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