Thirteen people with a form of the cancer called multiple myeloma were treated with genetically engineered T-cells, and all improved. "The fact we got a response in all 13, you can't get better than that," says James Noble, CEO of Adaptimmune in Abingdon, UK, which developed the treatment.
Cancers often develop because T-cells have lost their ability to target tumour cells, which they normally destroy. To retune that targeting, a team led by Aaron Rapoport at the University of Maryland in Baltimore engineered T-cell genes that coded for a receptor on the cell's surface. They extracted T-cells from each person, then inserted the engineered genes into these cells and re-injected them.
The souped-up cells were better able to recognise proteins called NY-ESO-1 and LAGE-1, found on myeloma cells but not healthy ones. All 13 people also had the standard treatment for multiple myeloma, which boosts white blood cell count. Three months after the injection, 10 of the 13 were in remission or very close to it – a 77 per cent response rate – and the others showed drastic reduction in their cancer.