WATCH: Researchers at the B.C. Cancer Agency are using immunotherapy to cure cancer in patients. Monica Martinez reports.
The opening of the Conconi Family Immunotherapy Lab marks a new approach to cancer treatment, running clinical trials that will be the first research of its kind in the world.
“This is extremely innovative. There is just a couple dozen centres in the entire world set up with this infrastructure to do T cell therapy,” said leading research scientist Dr. Brad Nelson.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer.
Doctors recover T cells, a type of white blood cell, after surgery and then isolate and purify them in the sterile units.
“We can grow them up to billions of these T cells. We might start with a million or so and we’ll end up with billions of T cells that we can then send back to the patient for infusion via an IV infusion,” said scientist Dr. John Webb.
Trials will be open to ovarian and cervical cancer patients who have not had success with the current standard of care.
“I can tell you in the mouse models that we work with, we don’t use chemotherapy or radiation therapy. We are able to give curative treatments to mice using nothing but T cells alone,” said Nelson.
The Conconi family donated $2-million to the $5.5-million lab.
Bob Conconi remembered when his father was diagnosed with skin cancer in 1978. He passed away nine months later.
“When we asked the doctors, there was really no known cure. All we could really do at that time was prolong life,” he said.
30 years later, he got the same diagnosis, but thanks advances in treatment, the result was much different.
“Within six weeks of the biopsy, I was in treatment and the treatment lasted for about seven weeks and I am now five years cancer free,” Conconi said.
Doctors say immunotherapy offers exciting possibilities that has the potential to revolutionize cancer care.
They will be approaching the Ministry of Health about funding future treatments.
Phase 1 of the clinical trials are set to begin in early 2017.