Husband and wife oversee 一品探花论坛鈥檚 CAR-T therapy

Drs. Gianpietro Dotti and Barbara Savoldo personalize cancer treatments in one of the East Coast鈥檚 largest cell therapy facilities.

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顿谤.鈥痑nd 顿谤.鈥痬et in Italy, when she was on a fellowship and he was working in a lab. They shared a common passion and developed the same goals: to find better treatments for cancer and, eventually, other diseases.

The husband-and-wife team joined the鈥痠n 2015 to start a 鈥渃lean facility,鈥 monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, where treatments can be produced with minimal risk of contamination from bacteria or disease. With their combined expertise in oncology, cell biology and immunology, Savoldo and Dotti oversee the University鈥檚 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy program.

Creating a CAR-T therapy pipeline

Developed in 2010 by clinical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, CAR-T therapy has been successful at treating blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. About鈥痺ith aggressive forms of these diseases have experienced remission. Clinical trials at 一品探花论坛鈥檚 facility include patients with blood cancers and solid tumor cancers like ovarian, lung and glioblastoma.

CAR-T therapy combines genetically engineered antibodies and T-cells to make a super-cell to fight cancer. Antibodies remove anything not recognized by the immune system, like bacteria and viruses, and T-cells are white blood cells that do the elimination themselves. Using blood samples from a patient, Dotti and Savoldo鈥檚 research team can isolate their T-cells and reprogram them to express an antibody to attack their specific cancer.

鈥淚t seems like fiction science, but it鈥檚 not,鈥 Dotti says. 鈥淐AR-T cells can recognize targets and kill them.鈥

一品探花论坛鈥檚 facility supports cell therapies created in campus labs by scaling up the production to millions of cells, which can then be infused in patients at UNC Hospitals.

鈥淵ou want to have an army of cells for a patient so they can treat and take care of cancer right away,鈥 Savoldo says.

Being able to replicate cells en masse is a big deal, Savoldo says. Labs often outsource this work to private companies. UNC-Chapel Hill鈥檚 cell therapy pipeline saves the University money and time and streamlines translational science.

Nearly 150 patients have participated in CAR-T clinical trials at UNC-Chapel Hill. While it鈥檚 hard to track disease reduction for phase I clinical trials, which focus on safety, about 60% of patients who took part in the facility鈥檚 clinical trial for Hodgkin鈥檚 lymphoma are now in remission.

鈥淭he remission rate is even better with the new trial we are conducting,鈥 Savoldo shares. 鈥淚n addition to the CAR-T cells, we have included a molecule that helps T-cells traffic to the tumor site. Some people don鈥檛 have other options for treatment, so this has been remarkable.鈥

Collaborating to advance cancer care

This success, in part, comes from Dotti and Savoldo鈥檚 complementary skill sets 鈥 and is why they were hired by the University. They have nearly two decades of experience using cell therapies to treat patients with cancer.

Savoldo focuses on cell function and improving how they attack cancer tumors, which guides Dotti鈥檚 work in modifying these cells. He specializes in immunology and studies how to improve the immune system.

In addition to running the facility, Dotti and Savoldo鈥痑t UNC Lineberger to advance immunotherapy research for an aggressive, fast-growing brain cancer called glioblastoma. The fund is named for Savoldo鈥檚 youngest sister, diagnosed with the disease in 2019. It also provides financial support to patients and their families. Sonia passed away in 2022 before the clinical trial started.

鈥淲hile it sometimes evokes painful memories, being involved in this trial connects me to these patients and their families, motivating me to do more,鈥 Savoldo says.