Newswise — BOSTON – The Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) today announced the opening of the Randi and Brian Schwartz Family Cancer Immunotherapy and Cell Manipulation Facility. The state-of-the-art laboratory expands BIDMC’s research capacity with the ultimate goal of accelerating the delivery of new immunotherapies to patients with cancer.
Immunotherapy, which enlists a patients’ own defense system to identify and selectively attack cancer cells while minimizing toxicity, is one of the Cancer Center's four areas of focus in its pursuit of “ultra precision medicine” in the fight against cancer. The Schwartz Family Facility brings together some of the brightest scientific minds in cancer immunotherapy and serves as a manufacturing center in which BIDMC’s physician-scientists develop immune-based treatments, including a promising experimental therapeutic vaccine against several forms of blood cancer. The center’s researchers are also working to unlock the secrets of how and why cancer cells evade the immune system.
“Here at BIDMC, our team has continually pushed the envelope with groundbreaking vaccine work, and with this new facility we will be able to push harder and smarter for our patients as we leverage the innovative work that takes place here every day,” said Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute at BIDMC.
As the concept of using the body’s own immune system as a powerful tool to fight cancer has changed physicians’ approach to treating certain cancers, Cancer Center researcher-clinicians and colleagues have pioneered a personalized cancer vaccine made from fusing a patient’s own tumor cells with their own immune cells. After a series of manipulations in the lab, the new hybrid cells are reintroduced to the patient as a powerful therapy.
“The Schwartz Family Facility will enhance our ability to develop personalized immune-based treatments for patients and combine these efforts with many other strategies for maximum impact,” said David Avigan, MD, Executive Director of the Schwartz Family Facility and Section Chief of the Hematologic Malignancies, Cell Therapy and Bone Marrow Transplant Program at BIDMC. “In this facility, with the remarkable research and clinical work that will happen within its walls each day, we are going to accomplish incredible things.”
To ensure the production of safe and effective therapeutic anti-cancer vaccines, the 3,400 square foot suite features three tissue culture rooms comprising 1,900 square feet of clean space designed to achieve “Good Manufacturing Practice” (GMP) specifications. These measures include equipping clean rooms with positive air pressure systems to keep air-borne contaminates out and walls, lighting and window shades designed to reduce dust accumulation. The entire Schwartz Family Facility, which also includes conference and meeting space, is served by an environmental monitoring system and a dedicated air handling system.
“This center serves as the home base for the development of our own vaccine approach and for bringing that approach to patients at the bedside,” said Jacalyn Rosenblatt, MD, Medical Director of the Schwartz Family Facility and Co-Director of the Cancer Vaccine Program at BIDMC. “We’ve trained partners from more than a dozen other research centers in a large-scale clinical trial to produce our vaccines.”
Conducted under the auspices of the NIH-sponsored Clinical Trials Network, this multi-center trial now in progress at 17 academic medical centers in the United States and Canada seeks to test the effectiveness of the BIDMC-developed vaccine model against multiple myeloma – a common blood cancer for which there are currently treatments but no cure. This first-of-its-kind research effort takes an open-source approach; in addition to training partners from participating sites, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center scientists provide central oversight, ensuring all products are made to a certain standard.
“Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has focused on open source science and open collaboration from this project’s beginnings,” said Rosenblatt, who is also Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The Schwartz Family Facility allows us to do it on a much larger scale, fostering more participation, nationally and internationally.”
The Schwartz Family Facility is dedicated to immunotherapy — one of the Cancer Center’s four pillars that support its mission not just to achieve the standard of care, but also the “Standard of Cure,” a vision of a world without cancer. The three other innovative leading-edge platforms include: the mouse hospital in which patient tissue grafts transform the animal models into patient surrogates; three-dimensional, microscopic organ models derived directly from patients’ tumors known as organoids that can serve as models to determine which therapies may be most effective for specific cancers; and RNA medicine, which leverages a promising but relatively little understood genetic material known as non-coding RNA that may prove useful in predictive and early diagnostics and reveal novel targets for developing new anti-cancer therapies.
Manuel Hidalgo, MD, PhD, Director of the Leon V. & Marilyn L. Rosenberg Clinical Cancer Center at BIDMC and Chief of Hematology/Oncology, added, “It’s a very exciting time in cancer therapeutics. Access to this facility will enable critical experimentation combining immunotherapy techniques with targeted drugs and other treatments.”
“Thanks to the Schwartz family, through a center like this, we can collaborate more quickly, we can move the field forward, we can learn from what we are doing now to be able to bring better immune therapies to patients in the future,” said Avigan, who is also Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding.
BIDMC is in the community with Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, Anna Jaques Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Lawrence General Hospital, MetroWest Medical Center, Signature Healthcare, Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare, Community Care Alliance and Atrius Health. BIDMC is also clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and the Jackson Laboratory. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.org.