More gene therapies involving Interleukin-12

Houston’s Methodist Hospital announced a new clinical trial involving genetic modifications. Forty-three women with breast cancer will receive the experimental treatment, starting from January 2020.

Many of the most spectacular feats in the history of medicine came from tinkering with our immune systems. Now, oncologists are hoping that altered immunity will finally overcome cancer diseases.

A recent innovation, anti-PD-1 treatment, has brought both hope and confusion. Although it can achieve tremendous results (including complete regression), a successful response is seen only in a small fraction of patients. To tackle this problem, many clinical trials probe combinations of immunological treatment with chemotherapy and other methods. Among them, there are also gene therapy methods.

New trial (NCT04095689) proposes a combination of standard chemotherapy with anti-PD-1 and administration of genes for Interleukin-12 (IL-12). This is not the first such approach. A previous trial has seen encouraging results just a few months ago (more) in late-stage breast cancer, and now the treatment will be tested in early-stage patients.

Genetic administration of IL-12 evades general toxicity of the protein. Administration to bloodstream was shown to cause wide adverse effects. However, injections directly into the tumor are safe for patients, while therapeutic activity is preserved.

Scientists will use adenoviruses, known for capability to insert genes into the host cell genome. The trial is in phase II, which means that the method was already tested for safety, and is now evaluated for effectiveness.

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