TIL therapy: 6 things to know

Adoptive cellular therapy is a form of immunotherapy that uses cells from our immune systems, such as T cells, as a treatment for cancer. The immune cells are usually isolated from a patient, expanded and, in some cases, engineered to enhance their natural abilities to eliminate cancer. This field has grown significantly in recent years with the FDA approval of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies for certain patients with blood cancers. CAR T cells are engineered to recognize specific targets on cancer cells. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are an experimental cell therapy being developed for treating solid tumors. To learn more about TIL therapy and MD Anderson’s research, we spoke with Jason Bock, Ph.D., vice president of Therapeutics Discovery and head of Biologics Development. What is a tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte? Lymphocytes, or white blood cells, are an important part of the immune system that helps the body fight off infections or eliminate diseased cells. Lymphocytes, made up of T cells and B cells, are constantly patrolling the body to identify cells that shouldn’t be present, including cancer. As cancers grow, lymphocytes recognize these cells as abnormal and penetrate into the tumor. These are the tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, or TILs. Once in the tumor, the TILs begin working to kill cancer cells. Sometimes, they’re prevented from doing that by brakes in the immune system or signals from the tumor that weaken the immune response. Immune checkpoint inhibitors were developed to block some of those brakes and unleash the immune cells to attack cancer. We also can use the TILs themselves, with some improvements, as a form of cell therapy. How can...