University’s cancer center joins international study

The Masonic Cancer Center is the seventh clinic in the U.S. to join a study focusing on treating head and neck cancer.

Zoe DiCicco

The University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center joined an international study designed to find a more effective treatment for head and neck cancer, the company running the study announced Wednesday.

The center is the seventh clinic in the U.S. to join forces with CEL-SCI, a Virginia-based biotechnology company, in a study expected to span three continents and up to 20 countries.

Researchers in the study hope to prove that immunotherapy — using a patient’s immune system to fight cancer — is more effective than the use of standard cancer treatments alone, according to a CEL-SCI press release.

“This is taking it in a different direction and trying to see if we can harness the strength of our immune system to fight cancer,” said Dr. Gautam Jha, an assistant professor at the University’s Medical School and the school’s primary researcher for CEL-SCI’s study.

The Masonic Cancer Center will provide patients for the study and pass along any information it obtains, Jha said.

The center has conducted other immunotherapy trials, Jha said, but none of them were exactly like CEL-SCI’s.

The CEL-SCI study includes patients diagnosed with advanced, untreated head and neck cancer. Researchers are testing an experimental treatment that appears to fight tumors alongside the body’s immune system.

CEL-SCI said it hopes to finish enrolling about 880 patients at all involved clinical centers in the study by the end of 2015.