A local family is fundraising to help bring a new cutting edge cancer therapy program to Victoria that will be the first of its kind in the province.
The Robert L. Conconi Foundation will match up to $1 million raised in support of building a new lab facility at the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre that will help scientists develop a specific form of cancer treatment.
Adoptive t cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy. During surgery, scientists harvest and isolate a patient’s immune cells from the cancerous tumour. In the lab, scientists grow an army of immune cells, also known as killer t cells, and supercharge them to recognize the patient’s tumour.
Similar to a stem cell transplant, scientists then infuse billions of t cells back into the patient
“Those t cells, because they’ve been super charged, can now go seek out the cancer everywhere in the body. It will destroy those cancer cells and it will prevent cancers from reoccurring,” said Dr. Julian Lum, a scientist with the B.C. Cancer Agency.
“This is really something that is going to be moving into the forefront of cancer treatments.”
Centres in the U.S. that have pioneered the technology have found the treatment highly effective in patients with melanoma.
For Alex Conconi, who is spearheading the fundraising effort, the cause is close to his heart. His father was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010.
“It’s an approach to tackling the cancer problem. It’s using your own body to fight your own cancer. It’s very personalized,” he said.
“Not only would it be far less painful and has less side effects, but it could be a cure for people who don’t currently have good options. I like to think of it as you’re upgrading yourself.”
In Victoria, scientists hope to complete the first studies in cervical and ovarian cancers.
The initial phase one trial, which will assess the safety and feasibility of the experimental therapy, will include a single infusion for roughly 15 to 20 patients at the end of 2016 or early 2017.
The money raised by the Conconi family will go towards building the facility at the cancer agency and supporting patients initially enrolled in the clinical trial. So far, they’ve raised more than $500,000.
“We can teach our immune system to destroy things that are bad in our bodies and I think this is an area where the field is moving,” Lum said.
“This amazing fundraising campaign being supported by the Conconi family is making sure that we will be part and be leading that wave of new therapy.”
To make a donation before Oct. 22 visit bccancerfoundation.com/conconimatch.