National Press Club

Immunotherapy could cure cancer within 10 years, physicians tell Newsmaker

November 1, 2016 | By Shelby Ostergaard | shelbyostergaard@gmail.com

Dr. David Maloney, physician at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, speaks at the National Press Club Newsmaker event Nov. 1.e

Dr. David Maloney, physician at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, speaks at the National Press Club Newsmaker event Nov. 1.e

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Gary Gilliand and David Maloney, physicians at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, used a National Press Club Newsmaker event Nov. 1 to announce the opening of a Seattle immunotherapy clinic that will expand the number of patients in clinical trials of the treatment, which they think could cure cancer within the next decade.

Immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that focuses on harnessing a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, Gilliand said. Put simply, cellular immunotherapy is a process by which T-cells are extracted from patients, modified to attack cancer cells, and then put back into the patient’s system, he added.

With the opening of the Seattle facility, named the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic, the number of clinical trials available will double from the five that ran in 2016 to 12 in 2017 according to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The clinic was named to recognize the Bezos Family, which is deeply committed to advancing immunotherapy, Gilliand said. He thanked the family for its generous philanthropy.

According to Maloney, of the three types of cellular immunotherapy that the new clinic will work to advance, the most promising has been Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell therapy. These cells, he explained, “track, seek out, and destroy the cancer cells.”

CAR T-Cell therapy has produced a curative response, meaning a complete remission, in 90% of the patients who have received the treatment, he said.

Such promising results are exciting but lead to additional challenges, said Gilliand and Maloney. Both mentioned that keeping immunotherapy cost effective will prove a challenge, as will commercializing the process enough for the therapy to reach a critical mass of patients.

Additionally, with such promise, many other research centers are working to expand their understanding of immunotherapy. But, as Gilliand noted, “cancer is our enemy, other research centers are not our enemy.” Cooperation, he said, is both a challenge and a priority.

Gilliand is the president of Fred Hutch, the common nickname for the cancer research center. Maloney is Fred Hutch’s first medical director of Cellular Immunotherapy and the medical director of the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic. Both men are excited about the possibilities opened up by the new clinic, and see immunotherapy as a monumental step towards curing cancer within the next five to 10 years.