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UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh: Advancing the Science of Immunotherapy

A partnership between UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center is a bold and ambitious effort that will revolutionize the way the world thinks about — and treats — a variety of diseases and conditions.

Our clinical and research organizations are exploring the potential of immune transplant and therapy to develop novel treatment approaches that harness the body’s natural defenses or control them to allow health to take hold.

For patients, immunotherapy can contribute to increased longevity and a better quality of life.

This is where we change the field of medicine.

For more than thirty years, UPMC has been a leader in organ transplant. Our groundbreaking work with immunosuppression created new possibilities that helped make organ transplant a standard of care all over the world. We also began developing new approaches in cancer immunotherapy more than three decades ago.

Our discoveries in these areas have stoked the fire of our ambitions — and now, we’re learning that transplanting the immune system can offer new hope to patients with life-limiting diseases.

With the establishment of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC), we’ve brought our brightest minds in immunotherapy research together in the areas of organ transplantation, cancer, and aging to collaborate, share ideas, and drive further development in this promising new frontier of medicine.

It's about commitment.

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh envision a day when Pittsburgh is the world's destination and knowledge leader for immune transplant and therapy.

Our institutional investment in this effort is monumental. We have created an entire organization dedicated to the development of immune transplant and therapy, and we’re supporting it with an initial $200 million investment to propel discovery and innovation so we can bring effective solutions to patients as quickly as possible.

Immunotherapy Clinical Programs

Transplant

Transplant

Driven by our pioneering efforts and expertise in transplant medicine, UPMC in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh is setting its sights on a new frontier: immune transplantation.

Our research has led to the development of new immunosuppression techniques using dendritic cells (a type of immune system cell). We are also investigating the potential of T cells. These approaches aim to induce immune tolerance to reduce the need for immunosuppression, paving the way for an elevated standard of patient care. Our increasing ability to modulate and manipulate the immune system will help us to continue to ease the way for organ and tissue recipients.

Experts from the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute are involved with the ITTC. Many other physicians and researchers from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh are working together to bring immune transplant into the mainstream.

Transplant

Cancer

Together, UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh set the course for cancer immunotherapy. The founder of what would become UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Ronald Herberman, MD, discovered the natural killer cell and developed the technology to transform it into a therapeutic powerhouse.

Since then, physician researchers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center have developed effective immunotherapeutic treatments and life-extending protocols for a wide range of cancers, including melanoma, head and neck cancer, hematologic malignancies, and lung cancer. We’re also exploring a new frontier: immunotherapy for what are traditionally considered to be immune non-responsive cancers (like sarcoma, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer).

In addition to approaches that employ antibody-based checkpoint inhibitors, we are exploring the use of genetically engineered T cells to find and kill solid organ cancers. As the home of the Cancer Virology Program, we are developing vaccine-based approaches that stimulate cellular anti-tumor immunity. Researchers at our organization discovered two of the seven viruses known to cause cancer in humans: Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus and Merkel cell polyomavirus.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s Cancer Immunology Program has long been investigating the link between cancer and the immune system. The ITTC will build on this ongoing work.

Transplant

Aging

Aging is associated with a hyperinflammatory response and yet impaired immunity, which can increase susceptibility to infections, frailty, and a host of chronic diseases. Our physicians and researchers are exploring the basic biology of aging to better understand the molecular basis of why some individuals remain healthy well into old age while others do not. Through this research, we aim to improve prevention and treatment strategies for age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis and to lengthen an individual’s health span, or the amount of time they remain in good health.

A world leader in transformational research, the Aging Institute of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh has produced one of the nation’s largest portfolios of aging-related research. The ITTC will build upon the current work and explore uncharted territory in the field of aging research.

Immunotherapy Clinical Trials

Every bold, new idea begins with a simple thought: “What if?”

Our visionary scientists and clinicians are continually adding to our ever-growing roster of clinical trials designed to ask:

  • What if we could harness the immune system to completely reimagine the way we treat transplant patients?
  • What if we could find ways to control cancer from within?
  • What if we could reduce the effects of chronic diseases as our patients grow older?

Immunotherapy is not new. Our physician-researchers have been on the forefront of using novel immunotherapy approaches in cancer treatment for melanoma, among other types of cancer, for years.

What’s novel about our approach is that our extensive history in transplant medicine and decades of research in immunosuppression have allowed our researchers not only to have a deep understanding of the immune system but also to design and implement innovative ways to manipulate the immune system response so that the patient’s body recognizes a donor organ as its own.

By using donor-derived cells in combination with organ transplantation, we are able to effectively “transplant” the seeds of a healthy immune system to reduce or eliminate the typical immune response that leads to organ rejection. We are one of the only research or clinical organization that has made such a strong commitment to this type of research.

For patients, our work could herald a new chance at life and a future free from the lifelong tether of immunosuppressive drugs.

Clinical Trial Highlights

Clinical Trial Highlights

Transplant Clinical Trials

  • Lung Transplant with Bone Marrow Transplant

    Our organization is conducting a study for patients with primary immunodeficiency and end-stage lung disease. Patients with immunodeficiencies often develop lung complications or infections that make them ineligible for life-saving immunotherapy. In this study, we are performing a lung transplant as well as a bone marrow transplant from the same donor. The bone marrow transplant will provide stem cells that should generate a new immune system in the patient, which we expect will resolve the patient’s immunodeficiency and prevent organ rejection.

    Learn more about this trial on its clinicaltrials.gov page or contact Shawna McIntyre, BSN, RN, at mcintyresm@upmc.edu or 412-692-5552.


  • Dendritic Cells for Living-Donor Liver Transplant

    Our organization is testing the effects of infusing donor dendritic cells into a patient one week before performing a living-donor liver transplant. Dendritic cells can control the response of other immune system cells, so dendritic cells from the liver donor can control the recipient’s immune response to the transplanted organ. We expect that the donor’s immune system cells will teach the recipient’s immune system to accept the new organ and reduce the need for long-term immunosuppression.

    Learn more about this trial on its clinicaltrials.gov page or call Mindi Styn, PhD, 412-383-8884.


  • Cancer Clinical Trials

    We are a collaborating, and sometimes leading, site for industry-sponsored trials investigating tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) for a range of metastatic and recurrent cancers as well as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies for refractory/relapsed lymphoma and leukemia. Our researchers are also developing novel applications and enhancements of CAR T cells, with a focus on improving and optimizing their use.


  • 16-126: Phase 2, Multicenter, Single-arm Study to Assess the Safety and Efficacy of Cell Transfer Therapy Using Autologous Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (LN-144) Followed by IL-2 for Treatment of Patients with Metastatic Melanoma

    This study is intended to determine whether patients with metastatic melanoma will benefit from adoptive cell therapy (ACT) using their own tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). TILs are a type of immune cell that can fight cancer.

    Patients will undergo a chemotherapy regimen, and then researchers will extract a tumor sample. The sample will be cultured in the laboratory to increase the number of TILs. Later, patients are reinfused with the autologous TILs (LN-144).

    Iovance Biotherapeutics sponsors this study.

    Principal Investigator: John Kirkwood, MD
    For more information, please call Amy Rose, RN, BSN, at 412-647-8587.


  • 16-213: A Phase 2 Study to Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability and Efficacy of Cell Transfer Therapy Using Autologous Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (LN-145) followed by IL-2 in Patients with Recurrent and/or Metastatic Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck

    This study will test whether patients with recurrent and/or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck benefit from adoptive cell therapy (ACT) using their own tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). TILs are a type of immune cell that can fight cancer.

    Patients will undergo a chemotherapy regimen, and then researchers will extract a tumor sample. The sample will be cultured in the laboratory to increase the number of TILs. Later, patients are reinfused with the autologous TIL (LN-145).

    Iovance Biotherapeutics sponsors this study.

    Principal Investigator: Robert Ferris, MD, PhD, FACS
    For more information, please call Amy Rose, RN, BSN, at 412-647-8587.


  • 17-024: A Phase 2 Study to Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability and Efficacy of Cell Transfer Therapy Using Autologous Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (LN-145) followed by IL-2 in Patients with Recurrent and/or Metastatic Cervical Carcinoma

    This study will test whether patients with recurrent, metastatic, or persistent cervical carcinoma benefit from adoptive cell therapy (ACT) using their own tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). TILs are a type of immune cell that can fight cancer.

    Patients will undergo a chemotherapy regimen, and then researchers will extract a tumor sample. The sample will be cultured in the laboratory to increase the number of TILs. Later, patients are reinfused with the autologous TIL (LN-145).

    Iovance Biotherapeutics sponsors this study.

    Principal Investigator: Robert P. Edwards, MD
    For more information, please call Amy Rose, RN, BSN, at 412-647-8587.


  • UPCI 17-017: A Phase 2 Multicenter Study of Axicabtagene Ciloleucel in Subjects with Relapsed/Refractory Indolent Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (INHL)

    This study will enroll approximately 50 adult subjects who have relapsed or refractory (r/r) iNHL to be infused with the study treatment, axicabtagene ciloleucel, to see if their disease responds to this experimental product and if this product is safe. Axicabtagene ciloleucel is made from the subject’s own white blood cells which are genetically modified and grown to fight cancer. An objective response rate of 70% is targeted. Kite Pharma, Inc. is the sponsor of this study.

    Principal Investigator: Alison Sehgal, MD
    Co-Investigators: Kathleen Dorritie, MD; Warren D. Shlomchik, MD
    For more information, please call 1-833-UPMC-CART.


  • 17-149: An Open-Label, Phase 1 Safety and Phase 2 Randomized Study of JCAR017 in Subjects with Relapsed or Refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia or Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma (017004)

    This study will determine the safety and efficacy of JCAR017, a therapy that uses a patient’s own T-cells to fight cancer, in adult patients with relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). The goal of this study is to determine the effect of JCAR017 and the recommended dose schedule.

    Phase one of this study will determine the recommended dose of JCAR017 monotherapy. The randomized Phase 2 portion will assess JCAR017 monotherapy treatment versus standard of care (SOC), with the possibility of crossover in patients on the SOC arm.

    Juno Therapeutics is the sponsor of this study.

    Principal Investigator: Kathleen Dorritie, MD
    For more information, please call Natalie Streeter, RN, MSN at 412-235-1276.

News & Updates

    • The new UPMC/Pitt research center is a big step. Read More
    • Pittsburgh research giants unveil landmark $200M immunotherapy center to combat cancer and aging. Read More
    • Why immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer treatment. Read More

    Cancer:

    • UPMC Hillman Cancer Center First in Western PA to Offer New Immunotherapy for Blood Cancer Read More
    • UPMC, Pitt Cancer Immunology Researcher Receives NIH New Innovator Award Read More
    • Targeting Immune Cells that Help Tumors Stay Hidden Could Improve Immunotherapy: Our discovery could unlock the potential of immunotherapy drugs to successfully treat more cancers. Read More

    Transplant:

    • Earliest Molecular Events Leading to Organ Rejection Identified in Mice: UPMC scientists are learning what activates the immune system Read More

    Aging:

    • Led by Dr. Finkel, scientists at the UPMC Aging Institute will begin research to find a formula for the foundation of youth Read More
    • Distinguished Researcher Named Director of Aging Institute and Beckwith Professor of Translational Medicine at UPMC and Pitt Read More