Reengineering at the cellular level is transforming medicine, resulting in treatments — and in some cases, cures — for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and neurological disorders. Now, some of those treatments will be discovered sooner at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) because of the May 2018 opening of the Fannie Angelos Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory. The GMP (good manufacturing process) lab facilitates the development of cell-based therapies and cancer vaccines for a variety of cancers, for which previous research had to rely on off-campus labs, many of which were hours away. The lab's immediate proximity to UMGCCC researchers will accelerate timelines for basic and preclinical research, helping cell-based clinical trials reach patients sooner.

The Fannie Angelos Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory will be a particular boon to the nearly 50 investigators in UMGCCC's Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy (TII) research program. The overall goal of the TII program is to develop and implement immune-based strategies to prevent, treat, or monitor the progression of cancer. These strategies involve both therapies that assist the immune system in identifying and destroying cancer cells as well as therapies that prevent cancer cells from holding T cells at bay. Most of the TII program's research falls into three main themes: (1) Cell-based cancer immunotherapies, which either reduce malignant cell growth (in the case of gene-modified immune cells) or prevent it (in the case of cancer vaccines); (2) Inhibiting immunosuppression, or overcoming immune evasion by tumor cells; and (3) Exploring the roles infection and inflammation play in the development of cancer. The lab will particularly enhance the research done in this first theme, although some of the therapies developed will touch on the second theme as well.

Many of the basic, translational, and clinical investigators in the TII program currently have therapies in at various stages in the pipeline, including Anti-Tag-CAR, a new class of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy developed at UMGCCC against CD20+ hematologic malignancies, for which trials are expected to begin in 2019. Another gene-modified therapy for lung cancer is being developed at UMGCCC in collaboration with CAR-T therapy pioneer Dr. Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Scott Antonia of the Moffitt Cancer Center at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

The featured video above includes footage of the new GMP lab and testimonials from UMGCCC patients whose lives have been prolonged through the gene-modified therapies for myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma they received through clinical trials.

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