Novel Immuno-Gene Therapy Shows Promise for the Treatment of Rare, Deadly Form of Cancer

December 15, 2011

Penn Medicine News Release

Philadelphia - Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania report promising new results from a small clinical trial using an immune-system-based gene therapy for treating advanced stages of a deadly cancer, malignant mesothelioma. The treatment, immuno-gene therapy, transfers just enough genetic material from an existing virus to trigger a patient’s innate defenses to destroy cancer cells. The study results, published in the December 15th issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, may lead to earlier interventions for patients using targeted therapies.

“Given our encouraging results in this trial with advanced stage patients, we believe that multimodality regimens incorporating immuno-gene therapy will have an important role in the treatment of earlier stage patients suffering from malignant mesothelioma,” said the study’s senior author, Steven M. Albelda, MD, William Maul Measey Professor of Medicine, and vice chief, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Division at Penn.

In the current study, Penn researchers, led by Dr. Albelda and Daniel Sterman, MD, associate professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Division, and co-director of the of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, tested a new gene therapy approach in which an adenovirus – a modified cold virus – was altered to express high levels of a potent immune system stimulant called interferon-alpha. Interferon-alpha is a protein made by immune cells that can boost the body's ability to fight off viral infections and some cancers.