Todd A. Fehniger, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine, and colleagues Alice Y. Zhou, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine, Ryan C. Fields, MD, the Kim and Tim Eberlein Distinguished Professor, and George Ansstas, MD, an associate professor of medicine, all at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, have received $1.5 million from the Rising Tide Foundation for Cancer Research and the Melanoma Research Alliance. The funding will support a phase 1 clinical trial of a novel cell-based immunotherapy — developed at Washington University — against melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer.
Cell-based immunotherapies, including CAR-T cells, often are used to treat blood cancers, but this type of immunotherapy has been much less effective against solid tumors. This new trial will investigate natural killer (NK) cells, a type of immune cell that naturally recognizes diseased cells, including cancer. In this trial, the NK cells have been exposed to a protein cocktail that activates and reprograms them, resulting in memory-like NK cells, which helps them better identify and kill the cancer cells. This strategy was first developed as a leukemia therapy at Washington University by Fehniger and colleagues and is now being explored as a therapy for several types of cancer.