New immunotherapy approach holds promise for ovarian cancer

Posted: 6 February 2023 | | No comments yet

A new approach using CAR T-cell therapy is suggested by Swedish researchers as an effective treatment for ovarian cancer.

ovarian cancer

CAR T-cell therapy is effective in mice with ovarian cancer, according to researchers from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.

The immunotherapy approach, published in The Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, is a hopeful start in paving the way for a clinical trial to see how effective the treatment is for women with the disease.  

CAR T-cell therapy is a relatively new type of immunotherapy that involves extracting a patient’s T cells from the blood and injecting them in a laboratory with a new gene that specifically attacks a molecule called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) on the surface of the tumour cells. When returned to the patients, the T cells are more aggressive, and attack the cancer cells like guided missiles.

“This therapy is currently available for patients with blood cancer, and we want to investigate if we can use the method to treat ovarian cancer,” said Isabelle Magalhaes, docent at the Department of Oncology-Pathology at Karolinska Institutet.

“Despite many improvements to the available therapy, the prognosis for women with ovarian cancer is still poor.”

Until now, CAR T-cell therapy has proved largely ineffective against solid tumours.

“Tumours often arise in an environment that’s unfavourable for T cells, in part due to a low oxygen level,” explained Jonas Mattsson, visiting professor at Karolinska Institutet. “This can cause attacking T cells to be neutralised, which impairs the therapeutic effect. So, we wanted to examine if it would still work.”

Many ovarian tumours contain mesothelin, and the researchers wanted to test three types of CAR molecule programmed to attack this protein. They therefore repeatedly exposed ovarian cancer cells to the programmed CAR T-cells in test tubes and conducted several experiments on mice.  

All three CAR T-cells significantly prolonged the lives of the mice with cancer compared to those in the control group, with the type called M1xx CAR T cells proving the most efficacious. The mice that were injected with T cells that express the molecule saw a reduction in tumour size and lived even longer than the others. Several of the mice were even cured.

“In several mice, there were no tumour cells left that we could detect, and the effect lasted just over three months after the treatment started. This is evidence that immunotherapy involving CAR T cells that attack the mesothelin protein is a promising one for ovarian cancer,” concluded Mattsson.  

“Hopefully, this discovery will pave the way for a clinical study. Our goal is to predict the optimal conditions for producing CAR T cells able to infiltrate and attack the tumour and survive in the bodies of women with ovarian cancer.”