Small, early Novartis CAR-T trial shows promise in solid tumors
- Until now, CAR-T—a form of immuno-oncology—has been tested for use in blood cancers, but preliminary data from Novartis shows potential for treating solid tumors, with early signs of safety based on a small trial.
- Chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR)-T uses a non-viral gene transfer system in which a patient's T cells are removed, modified, and re-injected with the goal of having these modified T-cells (injected with targeting CARs) seek out cancerous cells and kill them.
- Novartis conducted a phase I study of its CAR-T therapy in six patients with solid tumors—either ovarian, pancreatic or mesothelioma. Although the treatment was safe for these patients, and the T cells did not attack healthy tissue, however, their tumors did not shrink.
Many companies are now involved in CAR-T R&D for various oncologic applications, however, until now, there has not been news of testing in solid tumors. Although the early trial did not signal efficacy, the researchers, who are based at the University of Pennsylvania, are going to recalibrate the trial by increasing dosing and enrolling more patients.
The safety piece is important, because scientists were concerned that the treatment, which is designed to attack tumors carrying the mesothelin protein, would attack healthy tissue. The fact that healthy tissue was spared suggests that higher dosing may work.
Unfortunately, investors were concerned about the lack of efficacy and shares in companies with a strong CAR-T focus, such as Juno Therapeutics and Kite Pharma, fell on the news.