Chordoma Foundation

Announcing a new grant to support development of the first cell based immunotherapy for chordoma

We are pleased to announce that the Chordoma Foundation and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) — the world’s leading nonprofit funder of cancer immunotherapy research — have together awarded a $200,000 grant to a team of researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center with the goal of creating the first cell based therapy for chordoma. This is the first investment to result from the Chordoma Foundation’s partnership with CRI, which is intended to attract top immunotherapy researchers to apply cutting edge therapeutic approaches to chordoma.

With this grant, the MD Anderson team will apply a form of cell based therapy called Endogenous T Cell (ETC) therapy to chordoma through laboratory experiments intended to pave the way for an eventual ETC therapy clinical trial. Cell based therapies are a class of immunotherapy that utilize a patient’s own immune cells to seek out and destroy cancer cells that display certain tumor associated proteins called “antigens.” Many different types of cell based therapies are in development, some of which have generated dramatic responses in patients with a variety of tumor types. As part of the Chordoma Foundation’s Immunotherapy Initiative, we aim to bring this powerful emerging class of therapies to bear on chordoma, and this investment is the first step toward that goal.

ETC therapy works by isolating cancer-fighting immune cells called killer T cells from a patient’s body, activating them and growing them up in large quantities in a laboratory, and then re-infusing them back into patients. ETC therapy has certain advantages over other forms of cell based therapy in that it utilizes and amplifies immune cells isolated directly from a patient’s blood without requiring a tumor biopsy and without requiring any genetic reprogramming of the cells like other forms of cell based therapy. This makes it less logistically complex, faster to develop, and potentially safer.

The first phase of the project, which this grant is supporting, involves identifying chordoma-specific antigens, isolating T cells against these antigens from the blood of chordoma patients, and confirming the ability of these T cells to kill chordoma cells. If successful, this work will provide the understanding and preclinical proof of concept needed to initiate a clinical trial for chordoma patients within the next two to three years.

The project is led by Cassian Yee, MD, director of Solid Tumor Cell Therapy at MD Anderson and the pioneer of ETC therapy. Dr. Yee is also a member of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a consortium of leading immunotherapy researchers united in their goal of accelerating the development of breakthrough immune therapies. His collaborators on this project include chordoma medical oncologist, Tony Conley, MD, and computational scientists Jason Roszik, PhD and Yulun Chiu, PhD.

In addition to funding support, the Chordoma Foundation is also providing a number of critical resources to enable this project, including genomic data, cell lines, tumor tissue and PDX models. In doing so, we are ensuring that tumors representing a range of clinical manifestations are represented, including from children and adults, from various stages of the disease, and from multiple anatomic locations.

Cassian Yee

We are grateful to the donors whose generosity is making this important work possible, and to CRI for their invaluable partnership and matching funding.

To learn more about this project and to follow its progress see here.

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