There are currently two major areas of interest in the field of cell and gene therapy, according to Adrian Gee, PhD, director of the cell processing and vector production core facility at Baylor College of Medicine. “The first is the production of genetically modified CAR-T cells engineered to destroy tumor cells in targeted patients,” he says. “The second is the use of CRISPR technology to produce reagents employed in the insertion and removal of genes from patients.”
With 30 employees at any given time, the Baylor core is one of the largest in the country, serving academic centers as well as biotech companies. The use of CAR-T cells has achieved dramatic results in the treatment of leukemia, with documented stable remissions, although their long-term durability has not been chronicled. But the technology is now being applied to solid tumors, which have proven over the years to be much more difficult to manage.
“One of our new innovative targets are the surface antigens, present on a variety of solid tumor cells,” Gee continued. “Our challenge is to redirect the CAR-T cells toward these more complex and sophisticated targets.”
The core facility services the needs of Baylor investigators, responding to specific requests from scientists at Baylor and other institutions for engineered CAR-T cell and vectors. “In recent years, there have been major advances in cell production and vector development. We can now produce custom made cells in as little as 2 to 3 weeks, whereas only a short time ago, it would have taken months,” he tells GEN. “As the technology develops, we continue to amass new findings that make our bone marrow transplantations and immunotherapies much safer, efficient, and more effective.”
Gee says his core employs automated cell processing devices that perform washing, fractionation and cultivation of cells. The processing is performed in single-use chambers inserted in the device. These instruments offer closed systems for manipulating various cells and reduce the amount manual labor involved.
“Our experience with the CAR-T cell therapy program is encouraging and represents an application of immunotherapy to cancer cells which has yielded positive results over a period now stretching into years,” he explained. “We continue to work with researchers and clinicians as they pursue innovative gene therapy studies.”