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Erasmus MC Press Release Rotterdam, 07 December 2016
New technique for immunotherapy asbestos cancer
Activating patient’s own immune system to fight tumors
Asbestos cancer tumors can be treated by activating patients’ immune system with their own tumor cells.  It is difficult and at times even impossible to harvest these tumor cells from the body, which means that this immunotherapy cannot be used. Erasmus MC researchers have now managed to grow these tumor cells. This is likely to result in a new treatment for asbestos cancer.  The study was presented at the World Conference on Lung Cancer in Vienna and was funded by ZonMw (The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development), the Dutch Cancer Society and Amphera BV.
Activating the immune system by using the body’s own immune cells (dendritic cells) and the body’s own tumor cells is a technique that has been developed by Erasmus MC and has been shown to be effective in treating asbestos cancer. However, it is often impossible to obtain a sufficient number of the body’s own tumor cells from the tumor. Erasmus MC researchers are now able to grow these tumor cells from asbestos cancer cell lines. A clinical trial has shown that a mix of these tumor cells combined with the body’s own immune cells is safe in the treatment of asbestos cancer, and it has furthermore also been shown to be effective in a number of patients.

The immune system in patients with cancer is suppressed. Over the past years, certain types of immunotherapy have made it possible to reactivate the immune system, which can lead to long-term survival. However, this is easier for certain types of cancer than for others. Asbestos cancer also suppresses the immune system. The tumor prevents the activation of the immune system, which means that the commonly used types of immunotherapy hardly work.

Prof. Joachim Aerts, pulmonary oncologist at Erasmus MC, led the study. Aerts: “The mix developed from the asbestos cancer cell lines means that we no longer require the patients’ own tumor cells. The study has shown that the new method with cultured tumor cells is safe and that it causes activation of the immune system in all the patients. The treatment resulted in a significant reduction of the tumor in a number of patients. This treatment can be combined with other types of immunotherapy to increase the efficacy. Theoretically, this treatment can also be used for other types of cancer, which is something we are also investigating at Erasmus MC.”

The study was co-funded by ZonMw (The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development), the Dutch Cancer Society and Amphera BV. Amphera BV is a spin-off company of Erasmus MC that will further develop and register the new treatment, with the help of  a grant from the Horizon 2020 research & innovation program of the European Union. This follow-up study is a collaboration between Erasmus MC, Amphera, five European hospitals and the European Cancer Patient Coalition, a patients’ organization. The study is expected to start next spring. This new study hopes to confirm the results now found with regard to the efficacy and safety of the treatment, after which the treatment can be registered. 
Erasmus MC is the largest University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Our primary goal is a healthy population. Nearly 13,000 employees devote themselves every day to providing outstanding care, facilitating world-class education and conducting pioneering research. These professionals are instrumental in developing expertise on health and illness. They link the latest scientific insights to practical treatments and prevention measures to provide maximum benefit to patients and to enable healthy people to stay healthy longer. Being visibly better and leading the way in the areas of complex, innovative and acute care by collaborating with others: these are key ambitions at Erasmus MC.