2018 witnessed the rise of a number of new trends in oncology, from an increased focus in rare cancers to researching links between oral microbes and cancer, and more. The first quarter of 2019 has seen that momentum continue to build.

While gene therapy has been studied for 40 years, last year marked a new milestone with CRISPR gene editing technology beginning its first human trial. With predictions of gene therapies in oncology now a reality, it’s important to keep up with advancements and address the issues that come with these advancements. There are several notable gene therapies, including:

Oncolytic viruses engineered to directly kill cancer cells and avoid healthy cells

  • Animal studies have yielded very promising results, however adapting the approach in human subjects is met with a higher number of antibodies
  • Trials using the adenovirus and modified forms of herpes simplex have shown positive results in malignant gliomas and squamous head and neck cancer

Gene transfer directly altering cancer cell function

  • While this approach holds much promise, it has presented researchers with a number of obstacles including non-specific expression
  • Several trials have shown hope in squamous cell cancer of the head and neck, ovaries, liver, bladder, and prostate

Immunotherapy to provoke heightened immune response

  • CAR T-cell therapy has provided excellent results in kids and adults with leukemia or lymphoma. However, severe side effects in some individuals may limit its use in some patients
  • In 2018, the FDA approved one CAR T-cell therapy as a standard in childhood ALL as well as another for adults with advanced lymphomas, and with new trials recruiting for several solid tumors, CAR T-cell therapy holds much promise

Newer gene therapies such as CRISPR entering the clinic

  • Initially making its entrance in 2012, CRISPR gives researchers unprecedented precision in editing the genome
  • As of April 2019, two patients have been dosed (recurrent multiple myeloma and sarcoma) and many more trials are being planned

After many decades of researching gene therapy, the oncology field is filled with excitement as new treatments enter the clinic. The remainder of 2019 will certainly bring more advancements in oncology as we move closer to many cures.

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