UCLA researchers have developed the first technique for turning certain stem cells into mature T cells capable of fighting cancer.

The university announced Jan. 17 its scientists had developed a technique for coaxing pluripotent stem cells – which can create cell in the body and be grown in a lab – into T cells that can attack tumors.

The technique, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, employs artificial thymic organoids that can mimic the thymus, the organ in which T cells develop from blood stem cells.

The T cell therapy market to treat certain types of cancer was valued at $2.7 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $8.2 billion by 2025, according to a Jan. 17 report by Frost & Sullivan.

A treatment known as CAR-T therapy removes T cells from the body, engineers them to fight cancer and infuses them back into a patient.

The new technique developed by UCLA could produce such cells without collecting them from individual patients, potentially creating universal T cells that may lead to cheaper and more accessible treatments for cancer and other immune diseases.

“What’s exciting is the fact that we start with pluripotent stem cells,” said Dr. Gay Crooks, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and pediatrics, and the co-director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, in a statement.

“My hope for the future of this technique is that we can combine it with the use of gene editing tools to create ‘off the shelf’ T cell therapies that are more readily available for patients.”

The next step for UCLA researchers is to create T cells that can fight cancer but don’t contain the molecules that can cause the body to reject them.

Kite, a Gilead Co., obtained the commercial license to the artificial thymic organoid building block for cancer therapy from UCLA for an undisclosed sum.

The Santa Monica-based biotechnology firm, which developed the Yescarta CAR-T immunotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was sold to Gilead Sciences in August 2017 for nearly $12 billion.

Health business reporter Dana Bartholomew can be reached at dbartholomew@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @_DanaBart.

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