Recent discoveries about the effectiveness of CAR-T therapy in treating blood cancers, like non-Hodgkin lymphomas, have inspired researchers to dig even deeper. Through their experimental cancer therapy studies, researchers have seemingly unlocked a way to shrink solid tumors in the gastric system.
While the research remains in the earliest stages, the initial findings already show its potential in treating cancer affecting the digestive system. Clinical trials will need to back their discoveries before doctors can start using their treatment for their patients. But for now, the results prove rather promising, hopefully expanding the rather limited treatment options available for gastric cancer.
The Revision of CAR-T Cells to Target Solid Tumors
The CAR-T therapy approach used for blood cancers, like childhood leukemia, doesn’t effectively target solid tumors. To overcome that problem, medical researchers had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to improve their targeting methods.
Dr. Lin Shen and his talented research team at the Peking University Cancer Hospital and Institute may have been the first to crack the code. As published in Nature Medicine, their phase 1 trial interim results indicate that they switched to targeting protein CLDN18.2, which is often found in gastrointestinal tumors. CAR-T therapy used for blood cancers, on the other hand, target CD19 and BCMA antigens instead.
Getting the CAR-T cells to hit the right target is key to creating an effective treatment. Upon doing that, the modified cells can bind with the cancer cells and kill them off without causing damage to healthy cells.
Patients Respond Favorably to New CAR-T Therapy Approach
The first phase of the clinical trial tested CAR-T therapy for gastric cancer on 37 patients. Stunningly, nearly 50% of the patients responded favorably to the treatment overall. Their tumors reduced in size after the CAR-T cells targeted the solid tumors, and then worked on killing off the cancer cells.
All the patients participating in the trial presented with advanced cancer of the stomach, pancreas, or digestive tract. As with prior CAR-T therapy approaches for blood cancer, the patients had their white blood cells, or T cells, collected, modified, and then returned to circulate through their system.
Since the new approach targeted the CLDN18.2 protein, the CAR-T cells were able to target the tumors, reducing them in size. The patients with stomach cancer showed the most promising results, although the therapy proved reasonably effective for all the treated gastric cancer types.
Side effects did occur in all the patients, but the initial results showed that the therapy met the “acceptable safety profile” threshold. The initial phase of the trial focuses on safety above all else, verifying that the approach does not cause more problems than it solves. Despite the focus on safety, the researchers were delighted to see that the initial findings point to the sheer effectiveness of the therapy as well.
Additional Trials to Come After Promising Results
With the preliminary results showing great promise, CAR-T therapy trials for gastric cancer are likely to continue onto the next phase. During the complete trial, the initial findings will get verified, paving the way to FDA approval. Since future clinical trials will happen at a much larger scale, the resulting data will paint a clearer picture of its potential to serve as the leading treatment for all types of gastric cancer.
If all goes well, currently limited treatment options for cancer of the digestive tract will expand. Achieving complete remission will still prove challenging, however, but the CAR-T cell therapy will provide more hope as it triggers the immune system to fight against cancer.