Researcher begins lymphoma trial


More than 20,000 people die every year from some form of lymphoma, a type of cancer affecting the immune system.

Using new treatments through clinical trials should help, said Rajat Bannerji, a medical oncologist with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ). He specializes in leukemia and lymphoma research at the CINJ and is running a trial with a new compound created by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. 

“(This trial is with a) compound called Regeneron 1979, (which is) a bi-specific (compound),” Bannerji said. “It finds two targets.”

Leukemia refers to cancerous white blood cells, while lymphoma refers to cancer affecting a type of white blood cell, called lymphocytes.

These cancers start in bone marrow, where blood cells are produced, said Chetna Thawani, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Solid-tumor cancers can spread through the bloodstream if the tumor or parts of the tumor enter a blood vessel.

The term “blood-borne cancers” could refer to either that or leukemia and lymphoma, she said.

The compound binds itself to a cancerous B-cell and a T-cell in the bloodstream to encourage the latter to terminate the former, according to Regeneron’s website.

REGN1979 finds CD20 and CD3, both of which are blood cells, Bannerji said. CD20 is a B-cell, which would normally create antibodies during an infection.

This cell becomes cancerous in patients with lymphoma, according to Regeneron.

CD3 is a T-cell, Bannerji said. They are usually classified either as cytotoxic or helper cells. Cytotoxic T-cells kill other cells in the human body, usually ones that are cancerous or infected.

Helper T-cells assist cytotoxic cells by releasing markers indicating an infected or otherwise dangerous cell. Both types of cells aim to remove pathogens.

“T-cells help fight infection,” Bannerji said. “(But) antibodies can kill infected cells and block viruses on their own.”

Antibodies are also used to help cytotoxic T-cells, he said.

The antibodies are part of the “complement system,” he said. This part of the immune system amplifies the effect other components of the immune system have on infections or problems within the body

“(There are) complement proteins in your blood,” he said.

B-cells and T-cells are the two main groupings that researchers use to classify lymphocytes, he said.

Lymphocytes are one subset of white blood cells, which protect the human body against infection.

A patient with lymphoma’s T-cells may not attack a cancerous B-cell, but REGN1979 “activates” it, forcing the defender to kill the damaged cell, according to its website.

This compound is Regeneron’s first bi-specific compound, according to its website. Previous compounds have only been able to bind to one target.

This research is a Phase I study, Bannerji said. Clinical trials are divided into several phases, each of which have different focuses.

Phase I studies are the first stage and performed with a small group of people, he said. The compound has not been tested with any other humans at this point.

“It’s a brand new drug,” he said. “(These trials have the) only patients treated anywhere.”

According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, Phase I studies determine if a drug is safe and how much can be given to a patient at a time.

They also find what other effects may occur.

“Phase I studies (establish) the dose of the drug, the schedule and (they are used) to start developing the safety profile,” Bannerji said.

Phase II studies actually look at if a compound can treat a disease or condition, and how it stacks up to existing treatments, according to the NIH.

“Phase II (studies) efficacy, so for cancer drugs (it looks at) a particular form of cancer,” Bannerji said.

The third phase of studies compare results with the most common treatments today.

The first set of data from this trial will hopefully be presented in 2016. This particular study began in January of this year and is expected to continue for the immediate future, he said.

“Phase I can go on for a while,” he said. “You’ll start with the initial part of the study ... to get an early idea of its activities. This particular drug is at its very (beginning).”

Results from the trial have not been released to the public.

“No clinical data has been presented yet, so it’s confidential,” he said. “(Details on REGN1979 are also) proprietary to the company developing the drug.”

While REGN1979 has never been used in humans before, it has already gone through laboratory and animal models, he said.


Nikhilesh De

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