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Glioblastoma and Immunotherapy

Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Hosts Glioblastoma Research Workshop July 27-28

Brain cancer has taken center stage recently as several high profile individuals announced they are fighting the disease.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona last week revealed he is battling glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive type of malignant brain tumor in adults.

Television host Maria Menounos recently told People magazine that she had surgery in June to remove a golf-ball sized brain tumor. While her growth was reportedly benign, Menounos’ mother has been diagnosed with a malignant stage 4 glioblastoma, according to the magazine.

Glioblastoma remains one of the most difficult types of brain tumors to treat successfully. Patients can expect to live 12 to 15 months after diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for glioblastoma is 4 percent for those age 55 to 64, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Despite some advances in surgery and radiation, we are still searching for a more effective way to treat glioblastoma, which can be quite deadly,” said Ramy Ibrahim, M.D., vice president for clinical development at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

More glioblastoma research needed

To further advance the study of immunotherapy for glioblastoma, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy is organizing a workshop starting July 27 in Los Angeles. This unique event will bring together researchers and clinicians from major cancer research centers and institutes as well as experts from the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“Impactful breakthroughs can only happen if we work together, and that’s what we have committed to do,” Dr. Ibrahim said.

Immunotherapy utilizes the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer. While it has shown promise for some types of tumors and become standard of care for others, researchers are just beginning to explore how different immunotherapy technologies can be applied to brain cancer.

One of the event’s organizers is Hideho Okada, M.D., Ph.D., a Parker Institute member scientist in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Okada is investigating the development of a cancer vaccine for treating brain cancer in children. The Parker Institute helped support Dr. Okada’s research to identify a novel brain cancer neoantigen. His work indicates that this cell surface marker could serve as a target for a novel brain cancer vaccine or T-cell therapies engineered to recognize and kill tumors carrying that neoantigen. He presented results at the most recent American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting (AACR 2017).

Recent studies on immunotherapy for glioblastoma

Other recent research into immunotherapy for glioblastoma points to promise as well as challenges.

In December 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study demonstrating that a chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR-T) caused glioblastoma regression. Earlier this July, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania published data on T-cells modified to target EGFRvIII, a growth factor often present in glioblastoma cells. These CAR-T cells were able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, one of the major hurdles in treating brain tumors.

However, the study also showed that the harsh tumor microenvironment remains a challenge, and that the cancer cells found a way to evade the T-cells. The study appeared in Science Translational Medicine.

Parker Institute affiliated co-authors on the paper include Dr. Okada and Carl June, M.D., a Parker Institute director based at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Okada will be presenting at the meeting alongside colleagues from biopharma and major research institutions, including the University of California, Los Angeles.

“To help make progress against this disease, we needed to bring all the best minds together,” Dr. Okada said. “The Parker Institute enabled us to do that, and our hope is that this workshop will be a jumping off point for more fruitful collaborations in the future.”