CAR-T Therapy

Reprogramming immune cells to attack cancer cells

CAR-T cell therapy is proving to be a very effective way of treating certain blood cancers. It reprograms a patient’s immune cells to target and attack cancer cells throughout the body. This is a new treatment for some types of leukemia and lymphoma (blood cancers).

T-cells, a specific type of white blood cell, are drawn from the donor and modified in a lab so they will specifically target and attack cancer cells. The changed cells, called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells, are grown in large numbers and [are] then infused back into the patient.

The Research Team led by Dr. David Szwajcer at CCMB is actively involved in several CAR-T therapy-related research projects.

As with other Canadian cancer centres, the team is exploring the opportunity to produce CAR-T products in Manitoba. CCMB is well-positioned to produce this product because of a well-established cellular therapy laboratory, highly qualified professionals and infrastructure. Local manufacturing and administration of CAR-T products may significantly reduce the cost of therapy and decrease the cost to Manitobans.

CCMB, in partnership with BioCanRx, received a $1M research grant through the National Research Council to locally manufacture and administer Canadian-developed CAR-T products.

Working with the BioCanRx, CAR-T cell biomanufacturing network, the research team is validating in-laboratory CAR-T manufacturing under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) in Manitoba. The BioCanRx point-of-care network development work in Manitoba is funded by BioCanRx, CancerCare Manitoba Foundation and the National Research Council. The primary purpose of developing in-province CAR-T manufacturing capacity is to participate in several planned Canadian early-phase CAR-T clinical trials.

Opportunity for Training in Manitoba

In partnership with the Red River Polytechnic’s Laboratory Technical School leadership, an eight-month internship program is being developed, funded by MITACS and housed at the Cellular Therapy Laboratory (CTL). This will allow recent program graduates to develop skills in Cellular Therapy GMP production. The initial intake of students is planned for summer 2023.

Building a Better Manufacturing Network

Dr. QD Guan and Dr. David Szwajcer are participating in the ExCELLirate Canada Canadian Clinical Trials Group initiative. ExCELLirate Canada is a new nationally-coordinated research platform for next-generation cancer immunotherapy. As part of this initiative, Dr. Szwajcer is working closely with the Group’s Economics Committee to undertake a Supply Chain Analysis to better understand how to optimize manufacturing capacity in Canada.

The Manitoba Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and the Lymphoma Disease Site Group membership in partnership with CCMB’s CTL have diligently worked on laying the foundation for a comprehensive CAR-T program over the past five years that will meet the needs of Manitobans now and into the future. The goal of the research program is to explore the production and delivery of novel cost-effective cellular immunotherapies closer to home. In addition to research, this will also bring business and training opportunities to Manitoba.

Cancer research drives new treatment options

Shirley Mooney was first diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma in 2008. She responded well to chemotherapy and, after six sessions, went into remission. Eleven years later, however, the cancer returned. Adding to the difficulty of her situation, Shirley experienced life-threatening complications during chemotherapy. This required a change of treatment to a stem cell transplant, which was effective. Though she was in remission, doctors noted that her complications would limit treatment options if the cancer returned a third time.

Shirley’s cancer did return in 2022. Fortunately, a new treatment called CAR-T therapy recently completed clinical trials and was now available for Shirley. She had to travel out-of-province to Toronto, Ontario for the treatment, requiring her to be away from home and family for extended periods. Shirley responded well to this new innovative treatment and soon went back into remission. She’s currently living happily in Arizona with her husband, Wayne, and recent PET scans show no signs of active cancer. In January 2023, CancerCare Manitoba announced provincial funding for CAR-T therapy in Manitoba. Patients will soon be able to receive their treatment in Winnipeg. CancerCare Manitoba researchers are also working to develop novel CAR-T therapies for different types of cancers.

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