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#MadeAtUCL - Using our own immune cells to target and kill cancer 

made at uni showcasing top research at UCL

Image credit: UCL

#MadeAtUCL is showcasing the top 100 stories of disruptive discoveries from UCL. One of them are CAR T-cell therapies, groundbreaking cancer treatments which reprogramme the patient’s own immune system to recognise and kill cancerous cells. Read on

Europe’s first dedicated cellular immunotherapy unit at UCL Hospital


Dr Claire Roddie, Professor Geoff Bellingan, David, Michael and Daniel Dangoor and Professor Karl Peggs (from left to right), image credit: UCLH

Professor Karl Peggs (Director of the NIHR BTRU at UCL) will lead the Sir Naim Dangoor Centre for Cellular Immunotherapy an eight bedded unit at UCL Hospital (UCLH) within the new surgery and cancer building, due to open in 2020. The research and treatment Centre will build upon the world renowned expertise and ground-breaking advances already made at UCLH to successfully treat cancer using cellular immunotherapy. This invovles taking live cells from the body, genetically engeneering them to kill cancer cells, before re-infusing them.

The establishment of this Centre will enable UCLH to focus research on advancing cellular immunotherapies. As Professor Peggs says

“While clinical translation of cellular immunotherapy research into blood cancers has already shown positive outcomes, more research is desperately needed. We anticipate that through this research, treatment for other types of cancer – such as skin, ovarian, liver and lung cancers – will be developed, meaning greater cancer survival rates. It is a very exciting development that could be a game changer for the treatment of cancer”.

'War in the Blood' a documentary about CAR T-cell therapy

BBC Two documentary 'War in the Blood'
'War in the Blood' on BBC iPlayer (available until 8 August 2019), image credit: BBC TWO

A new BBC film looks at the work of scientists at UCL and clinicians at UCLH working together on groundbreaking ‘first in-human’ immunotherapy trials.

It is an intimate, feature-length documentary following two patients through groundbreaking ‘first in-human’ trials for CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment described as the beginning of the end of cancer.

Not allowed to meet and separated by two floors of a hospital, 53-year-old Graham and 18-year old-Mahmoud are nevertheless bound together by their commitment to the treatment and their faith in the science. Terminally ill, the trial represents their only option. How do their ages and life experiences affect their physical and emotional response?

Find out more about 'War in the Blood' documentary and research behind it.

Breakthrough cell therapies treating blood cancers

Image of Professor Karl Peggs in raconteur.net article
Professor Karl Peggs

Early results from the COBALT trial and other studies show that aggressive cancers can be tamed with CAR-T therapies which re-engineer the body’s immune system to seek out and neutralise abnormal and malignant cells.

(...) “Our early process was very labour intensive with lots of people gowned up and working one step at a time, which meant we could not make many products and that it was costly,” says Professor Karl Peggs, project leader and scientific director of the National Institute for Health Research Blood and Transplant Research Unit in Stem Cells and Immunotherapies.

“We realised that we needed to create an automated process that could be performed in closed systems without manufacturing in such a high-dependency and high-cost manufacturing environment. Our work has enabled us to reduce cost and complexity significantly, with multiple machines in a single room each capable of manufacturing a dose of cells. Our early trials taught us an awful lot and established important infrastructure. With that knowledge and processes in place, we can look at fresh ideas and new patient groups that might benefit."

"Thanks to our funders, we are now in a very good position to take other academic programmes forward, while industry partners are much keener to work with us to run big international trials and this means we get more access to new therapies for UK patients through commercial studies.The knock-on effect of our research is that manufacturing is cheaper and more efficient with far lower failure rates. Rather than treating one patient per month, we can now make multiple products and treat a lot more patients. The ability to be able to offer therapies patients cannot get elsewhere is hugely important." 

University College London Hospitals recently announced a partnership with the Exilarch’s Foundation to develop Europe’s first unit dedicated to delivering these therapies, the Sir Naim Dangoor Centre for Cellular Therapy.

Improving cancer treatment is “major priority” for public

Cancer patient in conversation with health care professional
Image credit: Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Enhancing cancer treatment is a “major priority” for the UK public, which also thinks that the NHS needs more resources to provide “excellent cancer care”, finds a new national survey led by UCL.

The study, British Public Attitudes towards Cancer Research and Treatment in 2019, found that half (49%) the population believe cancer is the disease group for which they most want better treatments for themselves and their families. In addition, 59% believe that stopping the suffering caused by cancer is one of the most important things society could achieve by 2050. Read on