Neurooncologist Reena Thomas receives CIRM award of nearly $12 million for immunotherapy research

The award will facilitate a clinical trial testing the safety of CAR-T cells — immune cells from patients’ own bodies that have been bioengineered to destroy cancer cells — used to treat a deadly brain cancer.

- By Bruce Goldman

Reena Thomas

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has awarded nearly $12 million to Reena Thomas, MD, PhD, clinical associate professor of neurology and the neurological sciences, for a phase 1 clinical trial to assess the safety of a CAR-T cell immunotherapy for glioblastoma multiforme, the most common malignant primary brain tumor in adults.

Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is an aggressive brain tumor that arises from the glial cells of the central nervous system. Each year about 12,000 Americans are diagnosed with GBM, and the five-year survival rate is less than 10%.

Certain characteristics of GBM render complete surgical removal impossible, and, at present, recurrence is unfortunately a virtual certainty, Thomas said.

“While the standard approaches can provide symptomatic relief after recurrence, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and further surgical intervention, these treatments have a limited impact in improving overall survival,” she said.

In CAR-T cell therapy, a patient’s own T cells (immune cells) are modified with a protein called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). These newly created, personalized CAR-T cells are reintroduced into the patient to identify and destroy cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal brain tissue. If successful, this unique form of precision medicine could transform treatment for this lethal type of brain tumor.

“Immunotherapy is a promising approach for cancers resistant to traditional therapeutics. Our ongoing clinical trial using CAR-T cell therapy against glioblastoma has shown encouraging safety and antitumor activity in patients,” Thomas said. “We are grateful for CIRM’s grant support, which enables additional trial participants to consider this innovative clinical research study.”

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2024 ISSUE 1

Psychiatry’s new frontiers