Maria Pia Morelli, MD, PhD, on Considerations for Cell Therapy in GI Cancers


The assistant professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center discussed factors to consider when trying to treat patients with gastrointestinal cancers with cell therapy.

“There are a couple of open questions for cellular therapy. First of all, is the disease going to respond? What type of actual cells do we need to use? A CAR-T, a TCR, and NK-CAR - there are now more and more products coming out. Then, what is going to be a good target? Because we want to make sure that yes, the target is selective for the cancer, but also is widely expressed. And then, what is the timing? Is it better to start treatment of the patient when they have metastatic disease like we're doing so far, or should we select patients with oligometastatic disease, meaning a very small amount of disease, because otherwise the cells might have a hard time actually getting into the tumor? Or should we consider starting to treat this patient in an early stage?”

Cell therapy’s current use in oncology is mostly limited to approved indications of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy in hematological malignancies, however, trials and investigations into CARs and other forms of cell therapy in solid tumors are picking up steam. Investigating cell therapy in this wholly different field brings about its own set of questions and strategies that must be addressed, and, furthermore, an even more specialized set of considerations within each kind of solid tumor.

CGTLive spoke with Maria Pia Morelli, MD, PhD, assistant professor, department of gastrointestinal (GI) medical oncology, division of cancer medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas, to learn more about the considerations investigators and clinicians must take into mind when looking to treat patients with GI cancers with cell therapy, whether it be CAR T-cell therapy, T-cell receptor (TCR) T-cell therapy, or natural killer cell therapy.

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