Greenwich couples' legacy lives on in ACGT

Posted: May 16, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Recently, there was a gathering of scientists at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich. They were there to discuss their latest findings in cancer research -- especially in the use of gene therapy in cancer treatment. There was tangible excitement in the room. Among those in attendance was Dr. Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania, who had, using gene therapy, actually eliminated all signs of cancer in two patients he was treating. Also there was Dr. Hui Hu, who works in the same city as June, at the Wistar Institute, and who is having similar success treating mice with cancer with his gene therapy, which he wants to apply to human patients.

The reason for this writing, however, is another reason for the gathering -- the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), a Greenwich non-profit that has helped fund these scientists and others like them; and the legacy of Ed Netter, of Greenwich, co-founder of ACGT, who died last year, just short of Dr. Carl June's news of his gene therapy treatment.

Barbara Netter, Ed Netter's widow and cofounder of ACGT, was feeling the excitement in the scientific meeting held before the gala dinner honoring her late husband and ACGT.

"We have so much energy now with Carl June," she said. "We're receiving a lot more applications for grants. There's a lot of collaboration and partnering happening."

It was the death of the Netters' daughter-in-law from breast cancer that inspired Ed and Barbara Netter to create ACGT 10 years ago as a vehicle to raise money for research into cancer gene therapy.

"The vision that Ed had is a new way to really get the science into clinical trials that will show the (gene therapy) concept at work," said Barbara Netter.

Last August, Dr. Carl June reported to the world the success of his clinical trial, supported by ACGT, in which he genetically modified the T-cells of three patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia to target and kill their tumors. Two of the three patients remain cancer free, with the third patient's cancer significantly reduced.

June's treatment, he said, was still only in the first phase. But he's now adding more patients. "We've taken in our first pediatric patient -- a 6-year-old girl with leukemia. She was infused today," June said.

This is the first of 400 patients June wants to treat within the next year or two.

"The gene therapy approach is fundamentally different from current therapies," said June, "and these ideas need to move to human treatment."

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Greenwich couples' legacy lives on in ACGT

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