Clinical Perspectives


Exploring Application of TILs for Head and Neck Cancers

June 23, 2020

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The exciting survival prognosis shown through adoptive cell therapy for melanoma has spurred physician scientists to determine the feasibility of the tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) form of immunotherapy for head and neck cancers. In a AACR Annual Meeting adoptive cell therapy session entitled, Expansion of tumor-specific tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) from head and neck tumors, the use of these therapies in uncharted disease settings is surveyed. 

Cell based therapy is now being applied to a wider and wider pool of patients, along with being developed and studied for other applications at academic research centers, as is the case in this study. News and more exciting data is coming out for other solid tumors showing manageable toxicity with products using TIL, genetically modified TCRs, and CAR T cells.

Last year, there were more than 400 different immunotherapies available for patients, and just as many were under development. Until recently, immunotherapy was not an option for patients with head and neck cancer. The standard treatment options were surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of those therapies. While immune checkpoint inhibitors are approved for head and neck cancer patients, the therapy has not shown durable outcomes and only a small fraction of patients may gain long-term benefit. For most, the treatment may only extend a patient’s survival three to five months.

Dr. Christine Chung, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Head and Neck-Endocrine Oncology Department, and Dr. Shari Pilon-Thomas, an immunologist and co leader of Moffitt’s Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer, are working to develop new immunotherapy options for head and neck cancer patients. One option includes TIL therapy, where a patient’s tumor is surgically removed and sent to the lab where it is dissected to identify T cells that have been able to penetrate the cancer. Those T cells are then expanded or multiplied in large numbers.

Dr. Shari Pilon-Thomas
Dr. Shari Pilon-Thomas, Immunologist, Co-Director of Moffitt's Center for Immunization & Infection Research in Cancer

In this TIL laboratory study in the preclinical phase primary tumors were removed from 20 head and neck cancer patients and sent to the lab for TIL production.

“Successful TIL growth was measured by the ability to expand T cells over an initial four-week period and expand them at least 200-fold over an additional two-week period,” said Pilon-Thomas. “We then performed lab tests to determine TIL reactivity to patient’s tumor.”

The lab tests showed that 43% of tested TIL samples were reactive. This study has demonstrated the feasibility of growing tumor-reactive TIL from head and neck tumors and raises the potential for the implementation of ACT with TIL for the treatment of head and neck cancer patients. Future efforts will focus on the launch of a clinical trial testing TIL therapy in head and neck cancer patients.

This study was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting.

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