“We have an appetite for risk,” Marieke Rothschild said. “We ask the question, ‘What can really yield results? What are the projects that are not being funded? Where, with a relatively small amount of funding, can you have impact?’”
The Center for Cancer Cell Therapy was established to directly benefit patients and spur innovation in a field that is considered one of the frontiers in cancer care.
The center will be led by Crystal Mackall, MD, professor of pediatrics and of medicine and one of the pioneers in the field of cancer cell therapy. Mackall’s work has focused on CAR T cells, immune cells engineered to express receptors that lock onto and destroy malignant cells. While at the National Cancer Institute, she led several clinical trials using these modified T cells to treat children with leukemia whose condition hadn’t improved with other therapies. The response rates were remarkable, with 70 to 90 percent of children improving with a single treatment. A variation on this treatment, now being tested in young patients at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, was recommended for approval by a Food and Drug Administration panel July 12 and could be the first CAR T cell therapy to reach the market.
“I think it has the potential to be highly impactful. That’s why I’m committing myself to it,” Mackall said. “If we can optimize the functioning of these cells, they have the potential to effectively kill an established cancer and to remain functional for years after one infusion. That’s the goal — to have a product that will work on behalf of the patient. When optimized, they could remain active for months or years, preventing a recurrence of cancer. So for me, it’s potentially transformational.”
Among the challenges of these therapies is that they work for some patients but not others, and aren’t effective in treating all types of cancers. Scientists at Stanford Medicine and…