The Ben Towne Center has adopted a unique approach that combines academic research with elements of a biotech firm. This approach, combined with our emphasis on collaboration, enables our investigators to carry discoveries and innovations from the research bench to the pediatric oncology clinic.
Applying Immunology to Oncology
Our primary area of research is immunotherapy, which activates the immune system to treat diseases. Immunotherapy has quickly advanced from early attempts of simply injecting cytokines - molecules that help control cellular immune response - into patients, to engineering DNA that incorporates into T cells. Each step has increased safety and improved outcomes, and the Ben Towne Center is speeding up the process of treating patients.
This is based largely on our rapidly increasing understanding of the way T cells interact with cancer cells, combined with the role of balancing cytokines and T cells in specific ratios. We are building a library of engineered, tumor-specific T-cell receptors with exacting cellular interaction characteristics. This T-cell receptor specificity is what lets a T cell recognize and attach to a tumor cell, without attacking anything else in the body.
These cellular interactions may be different for each type of cancer. There is also a difference between how CD4+ and CD8+ T cells interact with tumor antigens. We are investigating those differences to further refine our clinical approach.
Our immunology work also explores how to ensure that patients tolerate transplanted immune cells and avoid graft-versus-host disease. This is essential to expanding our treatment approach to the broadest possible population.
Merging Academic Research With a Biotech Infrastructure
The Ben Towne Center has assembled an infrastructure to drive the next era of cancer immunotherapy development. This infrastructure includes:
- A staff that includes senior scientists with a track record of helping biotech firms carry products to market. These scientists facilitate research, pre-clinical, regulatory and clinical manufacturing aspects of oncology-based immunotherapy.
- A Therapeutics Cell Manufacturing facility that includes a 3,000-square-foot clean room facility and is equipped to manufacture genetically-engineered T-cell products for FDA IND-authorized clinical trials.
- A team that develops manufacturing processes and procedures that enable us to scale up production of T-cell therapies while ensuring they are as safe and effective as possible.
- A translational research program that is fully integrated with Seattle Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and its clinical research enterprise.
- An Immuno-Correlative Studies Core focused on conducting in-depth studies of the performance of engineered T-cell products in treated patients.