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New and Improved treatments

Immune Cells and a Good ‘BEATing’ for Breast Cancer

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Dr

Clare Slaney

Project Description: Immunotherapy for breast cancer has shown incredible promise in the past few years. One such technique is CAR-T cells, in which a patient’s own immune cells are modified to have an anti-cancer molecule attached to them. However, CAR-T therapy has only been effective for blood cancers to date. This study, by Dr Clare Slaney (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre / The University of Melbourne) will investigate the use of new molecules, called BEATs, to enable CAR-T to work against solid tumours, such as breast cancer.

Why this work is needed: Despite the promise of CAR-T therapy for blood cancers, at present it does not work against solid tumours. Dr Slaney’s team have developed a unique molecule (BEAT), which could assist CAR-T cells killing tumour cells, and also protect against cancer relapse.

Expected outcomes: The study will develop a number of specific BEAT molecules, that can work with different CAR-T therapies. This will expand Dr Slaney’s earlier proof-of-concept work to trial the treatment combination in various subtypes of breast cancer. If successful, it could lead to a future treatment involving an injection of BEATs, together with CAR-T cells made from the patient’s own blood.

Project details

CAR-T therapy involves extracting a patient’s immune cells (T lymphocytes) and re-engineering them, before infusing them back into the body. The treatment has shown great promise for blood cancers, but is not yet effective for solid tumours, such as breast cancer.

Dr Slaney and her team hope to change that, by adding a new type of molecule (BEAT) to the CAR-T cells to make them effective against solid cancers. They have shown this can work in a previous NBCF-funded proof of concept study, with the combination treatment eliminating HER2+ cancer in mice. Excitingly, the mice were also then protected against relapse.

In this new study, they will expand on this work to develop new BEATs, which target different types of CAR-T cells. The aim is to expand the treatment to other subtypes of breast cancer in mice models, beyond the initial success in HER2+ tumours.

This approach represents a very promising new therapy for breast cancer. The BEAT/CAR-T therapy could treat the cancer and prevent its spread. Once administered, the treatment could also potentially remain effective even after the primary tumour is eradicated, eliminating any remnant or newly arising tumour cells.