The groundbreaking immune therapy work being done by The Children’s of Hospital of Philadelphia’s Stephen M. Grupp, MD, PhD, was recently highlighted on Australia’s 60 Minutes. The Center for Childhood Cancer Research’s Director of Translational Research, Dr. Grupp has seen encouraging early results of a trial using immune therapy to treat an aggressive form of childhood leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The most common form of childhood leukemia, ALL is largely curable, with approximately 85 percent of patients able to be cured. However, the remaining 15 percent of ALL cases resist standard therapy.
The 60 Minutes report focused on the researchers’ use of a ‘de-weaponized’ form of the HIV virus to deliver therapy. The HIV virus “is a terrible virus,” Dr. Grupp said on 60 Minutes, “but there’s a good property, and the good property of the virus is its ability to put a gene into cells. We isolate just that property and we get rid of all of the bad stuff, so yes, HIV’s been retasked to do good in this kind of treatment.”
In Dr. Grupp’s trial, which builds on an ongoing collaboration with Penn Medicine investigators, a type of white blood cells, T cells, are modified to attack cancer cells. Chimerican antigen receptor T cells are engineered to specifically target B cells, which can become cancerous in leukemias like ALL. After being returned to the patient’s body, the modified cells multiply thousands of times and circulate throughout the body, and persist for months afterward, guarding against recurrences.
Both the CHOP and Penn teams have seen great success with the treatment. At CHOP, two children with ALL achieved complete responses after being treated with the engineered T cells, while Penn researchers reported on the approach’s use in adults with another form of leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
One of the patients treated in Dr. Grupp’s trial, young Emily Whitehead, remains healthy and cancer-free since receiving the innovative immune therapy. “I think we’re winning, we’re winning every day, I’m thankful for every day we have,” said Emily’s father Tom during the 60 Minutes piece.
“I believe that this may actually be revolutionary in cancer therapy, but we have to prove it. And we have to show that it can work in other kinds of cancer,” Dr. Grupp noted. “In general change in clinical medicine is one step at a time … but this seems to be at this point a big step forward.”
To watch the full 60 Minutes report on this groundbreaking form of immune therapy, click here.