A woman with advanced metastatic breast cancer was treated with boosted versions of her own body’s disease-fighting cells, leading to a complete disappearance of her tumors and regression for nearly two years.
The technique involving tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, or TILs, had been used to treat other cancers, but only now is being tried against breast cancer. Now, the technique, “represents a new immunotherapy approach for the treatment of these patients,” researchers from the National Cancer Institute wrote in a paper on their research in Nature Medicine.
The lymphocytes are typically present in certain kinds of tumors but aren’t numerous enough to fight the cancer. Different lymphocytes attack different mutant proteins – so doctors have to find ones that are just to right to attack the tumor, and remove them from the patient’s body. They then can grow the TILs outside the patient, and put them back in much larger numbers to fight the particular type of cancerous tumor.
In the meantime, the patient was also treated immunotherapy drug Keytruda.
The NCI’s Steven Rosenberg told Forbes that the TILs are simply multiplied – not engineered – outside the patient’s body before being returned in larger numbers to fight the cancer.
“They are natural T-cells, not genetically engineered,” Rosenberg told the magazine. “This is the most highly personalized treatment you can imagine…. These treatments have the potential to treat patients with any cancer.”
Forbes noted that several companies are running trials for TIL therapies. Clinical trials are using the technique to target melanoma, cervical cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and others.
“This is a change in our thinking about what might be needed to treat these cancers,” Rosenberg told Forbes. “A new paradigm for cancer therapy.”