Gateway for Cancer Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding transformational early phase cancer clinical trials around the world, has announced a new partnership with the American Lung Association Research Institute. The alliance centers on a funding agreement between Gateway and the Lung Association to advance a personalized vaccine trial that aims to train each patient’s immune system to combat small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
Spearheaded by Jeffrey Ward, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, the trial officially began enrolling patients in spring 2022 for what will be a five-year study. Investigators believe it to be the only ongoing trial integrating a personalized vaccine into first-line therapy for SCLC.
An aggressive type of lung cancer, SCLC is estimated to account for approximately 14 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses. Estimates indicate that more than 33,000 patients will be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. this year alone, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths.
Immunotherapy has been successful in treating various cancers that have high mutation burdens, that is, changes within the DNA of cancer cells. Immunotherapy enhances the ability of a person’s immune cells to better attack cancer cells. However, there has been limited success in immunotherapy for SCLC. Dr. Ward and his colleagues believe this is due to immune cells not recognizing SCLC as their targets. The new study, with vital funding from Gateway and ALA, will test the safety of using a personalized neoantigen vaccine in combination with the immunotherapy drug durvalumab to train immune cells to recognize and target SCLC cells. The vaccine will be created using a patient’s own cancer cells, ensuring it is tailored to the recipient’s particular disease and unique cancer mutations.
Upon enrollment in the trial, study participants will receive the standard of care chemotherapy to treat SCLC along with the drug durvalumab. Once the patient’s personalized vaccine is developed, they will no longer receive chemotherapy and instead be given the personalized vaccine in combination with durvalumab.
Gateway for Cancer Research and the American Lung Association together have contributed $678,668 to support development of the trial vaccine. More specifically, the funds from Gateway and the Lung Association are earmarked for bioinformatic support, directly funding the single cell RNA sequencing and DNA profiling necessary to create the personalized vaccine. Gateway and the Lung Association’s joint funding will also support patient advocacy, aligning with Gateway’s patient-centric funding principles.
“We’re excited to partner with the American Lung Association and together give Dr. Ward and his team the resources and support needed to bring this innovative study to life,” said Delora Senft, chief program officer at Gateway for Cancer Research. “For too many patients with small cell lung cancer, there are few—if any—effective treatment options. Our hope is that Dr. Ward’s trial changes that for patients while giving physicians a better understanding of immune system response to this particular disease.”
The partnership with Gateway is ushering in a new era of early phase research for the newly launched American Lung Association Research Institute, which aims to accelerate discovery and innovation through partnerships with like-minded organizations that share a focus on defeating lung cancer.
“These studies are not only trying to find cures for cancer, but also increasing our collective understanding of how different types of cancer react to new and innovative treatments,” said Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. “We know all too well how devastating small cell lung cancer is, and we are eager to work hand-in-glove with Gateway to get one step closer to a world where a SCLC diagnosis is no longer feared.”