In DepthCANCER IMMUNOTHERAPY

Worries, confusion after cancer trial deaths

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Science  09 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1211
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6317.1211

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Summary

An experimental cancer therapy is facing its biggest setback yet, after an unexpected complication killed seven people, five of them in a single clinical trial. The company, Seattle, Washington–based Juno Therapeutics, has its most troubled trial on hold and is racing to figure out why patients suffered fatal brain swelling, called cerebral edema. Researchers elsewhere are grappling with possible ramifications for the breakthrough treatment, in which a patient's T cells are genetically engineered to fight cancer. Called chimeric antigen receptor–T therapy, it goes up for drug approval next year. Doctors speculate that the cerebral edema could be due to the specific product tested and the trial's patient population, rather than the overall strategy itself. But they're mostly in the dark, and hope that additional research, including new animal models, could help explain what happened and why.