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Could immunotherapy treat chordoma?

Newly launched projects will contribute critical answers.


Recent advances in immunotherapy — an approach that mobilizes the immune system to fight disease — have revolutionized treatments for certain cancers, and we’re investing in a range of complementary research projects to explore whether and how chordoma patients can also benefit from the promise of this treatment avenue.

Most recently, in partnership with the Cancer Research Institute, we’ve funded two new studies aimed at doing the detective work needed to uncover how chordoma tumors interact with the immune system before and during therapy. Both will build a dossier on chordoma tumors: what they look like, how they’re formed, where they grow, how they communicate, and how they interact with immune cells around them. By creating a deeper understanding of the unique mutations, molecular profile, and microenvironment associated with chordoma tumors, the projects will contribute critical knowledge about how immunotherapy might be applied to chordoma.

One study is led by Aurélie Dutour, PhD, at Centre Léon Bérard in France, whose team will leverage a relatively large number of chordoma tissue samples, some of which have been treated with an immunotherapy drug or other targeted therapies. The majority of the samples came from patients enrolled on clinical trials, which is important because it means the patients were all treated and monitored in the same highly controlled and consistent manner, making it easier for researchers to answer questions and draw conclusions about the resulting data. Dr. Dutour and colleagues will define chordoma’s “immunome” — the interconnectedness of the tumor and its immune environment — and investigate how the immunome may differ between treated and untreated tumor samples. By creating a “before and after” survey of the environment in and around the tumor, the team hopes to contribute knowledge about how certain treatments might work against this disease and tumor characteristics that may predict a response to certain therapies. This will be one of the first systematic characterizations of how the chordoma immunome is altered by drug therapy, which could eventually lead to identification of optimal treatments based on a patient’s specific tumor profile.

The other investigation is led by Christopher Alvarez-Breckenridge, MD, PhD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. The project seeks to identify features in chordoma tumors that could make immunotherapy a good treatment option. Dr. Alvarez-Breckenridge and team will use highly sophisticated approaches to analyze chordoma tissue donations from patients treated with immunotherapies at MD Anderson with the goal of identifying genomic alterations and gene expression signatures associated with therapeutic response to immunotherapy. The researchers have access to samples from 17 patients already treated with immunotherapy in the last five years and anticipate future treatment of another 13 patients who will contribute additional samples over the course of the project.

Dr. Alvarez-Breckenridge’s group will also develop an unprecedented profile of chordoma tumors from different anatomic sites (e.g., clivus, sacrum, etc.) to identify cellular and molecular features in the tumor environment that might be targeted by new immunotherapy approaches. With this information, the team hopes to identify immunotherapy strategies across the different sites where chordomas are found.

Together, these two-year projects will generate critical information that can guide further preclinical and clinical research, and help chordoma patients benefit from powerful new immunotherapy approaches.

Our partnership with the Cancer Research Institute

We’re proud to partner with the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the world’s premier supporter of cancer immunotherapy research. CRI has invested more than $500 million in support of research conducted by tumor immunologists at the world’s leading medical centers and universities, and has contributed to many of the key scientific advances that demonstrate the potential for immunotherapy to create a world immune to cancer.

These projects were selected for their high potential to advance chordoma immunotherapy by CRI’s world-renowned Scientific Advisory Council, which includes four Nobel laureates and 27 members of the National Academy of Sciences. They are co-funded by CRI through their Clinic and Laboratory Integration Program (CLIP), which supports projects that provide insights that can be directly applied to optimizing cancer immunotherapy in the clinic.

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