The first time Hong Qin, M.D., Ph.D., saw images of how chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy obliterated a tumor, he was captivated and inspired by this revolutionary treatment. As the new director of Regenerative Immunotherapies at Mayo Clinic in Florida, Dr. Qin and his team will play a pivotal role in accelerating the latest CAR T-cell and other regenerative immunotherapy discoveries from bench to bedside to address unmet patient needs.
Dr. Qin’s team will work with the Mayo Clinic Departments of Hematology and Medical Oncology, the Center for Regenerative Medicine and the Cancer Center in developing first-in-class CAR T-cell products, procedures and treatments. The goal is to position Mayo Clinic at the forefront of expanding regenerative immunotherapy options to more types of cancers and potentially neurological and autoimmune disorders.
“When I was in medical school, I was taught that blood cancer was incurable. But with CAR T-cell therapy treatment, a significant number of patients with B-acute lymphoblastic leukemias can survive long term without the tumor coming back. Such therapeutic benefits are unparalleled, and may go beyond traditional chemotherapy or radio therapy,” says Dr. Qin. “I believe that CAR T and regenerative immunotherapies in general will open a new era for Mayo Clinic to treat cancer patients.”
Immunotherapies unleash the body’s defense mechanisms to fight bacteria, viruses and diseases, including cancer. CAR T-cell therapy seeks to harness the power of the immune system by genetically modifying cells, equipping them to go on search and destroy missions to kill cancer. These engineered cells act like a living drug continually working within the body to cure disease.
The key hurdles to bringing CAR T-cell therapy to more patients are cost and access. It’s expensive and there are long waits for clinical trials. Mayo Clinic is addressing those hurdles through the CAR T Translational Research Program that Dr. Qin leads.
New laboratory space will be made available in Florida for discovery science with the scope of attracting researchers with innovative ideas for developing new regenerative immunotherapy products unique to Mayo Clinic. For example, could scientists identify CAR T therapies with fewer side effects that are easier on patients? Could investigators discover ways to apply CAR T-cell therapy to solid tumors, providing new treatment options for many more types of cancer?
Mayo Clinic is one of only a few medical research centers that have made significant investments in facilities where clinical grade biotherapies can be manufactured on site. The new Discover & Innovation Building on the Florida campus will deploy current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) facilities where new patient-ready immunotherapies can be manufactured under strict sterile quality control measures that meet Food and Drug Administration guidelines. That could eventually increase patient access to CAR T and other regenerative immunotherapies through clinical trials and lower the cost through in-house supply.
“With the cGMP facility we can help move new discoveries toward an initial clinical trial in order to perform critical first-in-man evaluation,” says Dr. Qin. “This platform is so important, because it empowers us to readily translate discoveries to the patient.”
The ultimate goal is to deliver the newly developed clinical grade immunotherapies to the medical practice to provide new hope and healing for patients.
Background in cancer research
Dr. Qin joined Mayo Clinic in June from City of Hope cancer research and treatment center in California, where he researched novel CAR T-therapies that are now in Phase I clinical trials.
Dr. Qin holds a medical degree from the Shanghai Second Medical University in China and a Ph.D. in Anatomy and Cell Biology from The University of Western Ontario in Canada. He has completed post-doctoral training and early career development as a junior faculty at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Qin holds seven patents related to antibodies and CAR-T therapies.
“It is so important to translate emerging discoveries to the patient bedside, which can provide hope to cancer patients who have exhausted all other therapeutic options,” says Dr. Qin. “The team work at Mayo Clinic is so critical to having this mission accomplished.”
For Mayo Clinic, mission accomplished might mean robust research and development that delivers new cellular therapies providing new cures that so far have eluded patients.
This article originally was published on the Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.