Improved therapies for children facing cancer can only be discovered through pediatric research. Placing a premium on innovation, Lurie Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders is committed to speeding up the development of new treatments by leading and participating in early phase clinical trials.
Recently neuro-oncologist Ashley Plant-Fox, MD, opened the first clinical trial for a novel heat shock protein vaccine targeting the fatal pediatric brain tumor diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), the deadliest brain tumor in children.
Dr. Plant-Fox worked in collaboration with Agenus Biotechnologies to use genetic sequencing information from patient tumors to identify tumor specific markers that could be used in a vaccine product. Together, they created the vaccine known as rHSC-DIPGVax. As of January 2022, this phase I clinical trial is open at Lurie Children’s for newly diagnosed patients after completion of radiation. Dr. Plant-Fox is the lead Principal Investigator at Lurie Children’s and the trial enrolled it’s first patient in early April.
To limit the distance families must travel to receive this novel therapy, the trial is also available at additional sites including Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospital Orange County, and Alberta Children’s.
Dr. Plant-Fox believes it is essential to collect biologic correlates during clinical trials in order to gather as much data as possible on responders and non-responders to novel therapies, especially in rare disease populations. The biologic correlates to this trial include evaluation of tumor biopsy samples as well as blood samples at various time points throughout each participant’s vaccine treatment. Michael DeCuypere, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Lurie Children’s who specializes in brain tumor surgery and research, has joined Dr. Plant-Fox’s team to perform minimally-invasive biopsies of these tumors. Lurie Children’s is one of only a few pediatric centers in the Midwest with the experience and state-of-the-art technology to perform these biopsies safely, given their risky location in the brainstem.
The blood samples will be evaluated for immune cell markers and immune cell response to vaccine peptides at Jason Miska’s laboratory at Northwestern University. Advanced epitope spread assays will be conducted at University of Calgary in the laboratory of Aru Narendran, MD, PhD, a pediatric neuro-oncologist who specializes in immune monitoring of vaccines.
This advanced assay will allow Dr. Plant-Fox to learn specifically what the immune cells are targeting post vaccine administration. This type of information can help improve the vaccine product in the future or predict which molecular alterations in a patient’s tumor will make them more or less likely to respond to the vaccine.