Huda Salman, MD, PhD, will study new treatment for rare blood cancer
INDIANAPOLIS—An Indiana University leukemia physician-scientist has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to evaluate a new treatment for an extremely rare and incurable blood cancer.
Huda Salman, MD, PhD, director of the Brown Center for Immunotherapy at Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, was awarded the grant to evaluate an immunotherapy for chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML), found most often in older adults. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, CMML impacts about 1,100 people annually in the United States. It starts with a mutated stem cell in the bone marrow that causes an overproduction of white blood cells.
“CMML is very, very rare. We call it an orphan disease because it affects fewer than 200,000 people annually in the U.S.,” Salman, the Don Brown Professor of Immunotherapy, said. “I’m incredibly grateful to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for its support of my work. Because of this generous support, my colleagues and I will be able to work on furthering our scientific discoveries into treatments for people with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.”
In past research, Salman developed a cellular therapy that targets a protein called CD4. The CAR T-cell immunotherapy is showing promising results in early clinical trials at IU for other blood cancers. Salman and colleagues have found the customized T cells destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
Now, this grant will help Salman open a trial using the same technology to target CD4 for CMML patients.
“We take T cells–immune cells–from the patient, modify them in the lab to target the protein at a specific strength, expand them until they are adequate in number and function, then give them back to the patient to fight the tumors through the protein we targeted,” Salman explained. “There are no treatments for CMML. We cannot cure the vast majority of leukemias without bone marrow (stem cell) transplants, and patients have to be in remission to get the transplants—and most CMML patients can’t get into remission.”
Transplants also follow extremely high doses of chemotherapy, which can cause other serious medical issues. Immunotherapies avoid the side effects of chemo and radiation.
The clinical trial—expected to open this month—will check if the treatment is successfully qualifying CMML patients for transplant or if transplant is no longer needed.
Salman holds the investigational new drug (IND) status on this treatment, which is granted by the United States Food and Drug Administration to investigators to initiate and conduct a trial with a not-yet-approved drug.
About the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center
The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center is the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of only 56 in the nation. The prestigious comprehensive designation recognizes the center’s excellence in basic, clinical, and population research, its outstanding educational activities, and its effective community outreach program across the state. It is also one of only 33 members of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. As a member, the center’s physicians have a role in determining the recognized standard of clinical care for cancer patients. The center is the central hub for cancer research and education across Indiana University.