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Barbara Savoldo
Barbara Savoldo, MD, PhD

UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher Barbara Savoldo, MD, PhD, was awarded a $600,000, three-year grant from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to support research into an immunotherapy treatment being developed with a “safety switch” to safeguard against potential side effects of the treatment.

The grant will help fund clinical research into an investigational chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia that would include the built-in safety switch. The project was one of 17 immunotherapy projects that LLS recently funded as part of an effort to drive progress in the revolutionary therapies that harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

“It is truly an honor to receive this award,” said Savoldo, assistant director of the UNC Lineberger Immunotherapy Program and professor of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology at UNC School of Medicine. “It will support research into a new approach to mitigate side effects of immunotherapy treatments for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Our goal is to adapt an ‘off switch’ for chimeric antigen T-cell receptor therapies that are a demonstrated game-changer in the treatment of this disease.”

Savoldo and her team are focused on developing a “safety switch” that can halt the expansion of infused T cells, should a patient experience treatment toxicities. This approach, if successful, could reduce potentially lethal side effects – including cytokine release syndrome – of CAR T-cell treatment for ALL.

LLS has invested $40 million during the past two decades in CAR T-cell therapy at multiple institutions. Earlier this year, the FDA approved two CAR T-cell immunotherapy approaches that LLS has supported with research funding.

Founded in 1949 and headquartered in Rye Brook, New York, LLS is a voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer that has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. LLS funds blood cancer research around the world, provides free information and support services, and is the voice for all blood cancer patients seeking access to quality, affordable, coordinated care.

“There is never a good time to get cancer, but it’s a phenomenal time to be fighting it,” Louis J. DeGennaro, PhD, LLS’s president and CEO. “LLS is doing more than any cancer non-profit to advance the next generation of blood cancer treatments and cures, and, in doing so, we are helping patients with other cancers and chronic diseases. Already in 2017, the FDA has approved 13 new blood cancer treatments, and LLS has supported virtually all of them. Our long-term vision and investment is paying off in our impact for patients.”