CAR T cell therapy, a form of immunotherapy, was first developed by Penn Medicine and was the first gene therapy to be approved by the FDA. It retrains healthy cells to hunt down and eliminate cancer cells. Penn Medicine is leading the world in delivering the promise of immunotherapy to you.
The Story of Immunotherapy at Penn Medicine
The groundwork for immunotherapy began in 2003 with the mapping of the human genome. For the first time, we knew which genes affected which traits in the body. But actually changing those genes would require something more.
Over the next decade, Penn Medicine built on this knowledge, creating the first FDA-approved immunotherapy, called CAR T cell therapy. CAR T cell therapy is a groundbreaking technique for retraining the body’s T cells that Penn Medicine has used to treat hundreds of patients with cancer. It was first approved for treating leukemia, a type of blood cancer.
Today, Penn Medicine's world-leading researchers are developing new immunotherapies to treat cancer, as well as other diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, infectious diseases and more.
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Types of Cutting-Edge Immunotherapy Treatment
CAR T Cell Therapy
Cancer spreads quickly for a simple reason: The body can’t see it. Cancer cells start out as healthy cells, so when they mutate, they still look like healthy cells to the immune system. They’re camouflaged. The immune cells never attack.
With CAR T cell therapy, we teach immune cells to recognize cancer cells. We take some of the body’s T cells (a type of white blood cell) and genetically retrain them to find a specific chunk of biological code — the cancer fingerprint. When the T cells are returned to the body, they hunt down and destroy all cells with that fingerprint. These engineered "hunter cells" live on in the body as a permanent defense long after the cancer is gone.
First developed by Penn Medicine, CAR T cell therapy is now in clinical trials around the world in thousands of permutations for many diseases. At Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center alone, clinical trials have already led to groundbreaking, FDA-approved therapies for lymphoma and leukemia. We hope to see similar results soon for glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.
Although still in its infancy, CAR T represents a turning point in the history of human medicine, a genuine revolution in our approach to disease.
Learn more about CAR T cell therapy
Targeted Molecular Therapy
Targeted molecular therapy involves the use of drugs that help differentiate healthy cells from cancer cells. The drugs disable the cancer cells, which allows the immune system to do its job.
Targeted therapy has been used to treat melanoma and lung cancer, and are being tested in other cancers, including ovarian cancer.
Learn more about targeted therapy
Penn’s pioneering cancer vaccines aim to cure cancer — or stop it from happening in the first place. Current studies focus on pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, head and neck cancers, and recurrent breast cancers.
Learn more about vaccine therapy