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Cellular therapy as therapeutic weapon; Dr. Simon Turcotte pursues his goal of making this form of treatment effective for multiple cancers.

Translated from a text by Renée Bernatchez

Dr. Simon Turcotte’s expertise in using tumour‑infiltrating T lymphocytes (TILs) as a therapeutic weapon is unique in Canada. Trained at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in the lab of Dr. Steven Rosenberg, one of the pioneers of immunotherapy, Dr. Turcotte discovered that patients with advanced metastatic cancers refractory to traditional chemotherapy can be successfully treated using T lymphocytes taken from their tumour. “We have everything we need at the CHUM to give Quebecers access to this new type of cancer therapy. Since moving into the new CHUM, we are setting everything up to offer this new immunotherapy based on tumour‑infiltrating T lymphocytes to Quebec patients.” An area of expertise not widely practised in Canada, this type of therapy is evolving rapidly in some centres in the US and Europe. Dr. Turcotte and his team wish to develop TILs therapy here as well.

Dr. Simon Turcotte (photo credit: CHUM)

Published proof of concept sheds light on a mystery

Developed by Dr. Rosenberg, a surgeon, cellular therapy based on TILs involves the surgical resection of a tumor followed by extraction of specific anti-tumour lymphocytes.

Among all the different types of cancers, Dr. Turcotte has a particular interest in hepatobiliary and pancreatic cancers. From a scientific point of view, TIL-based cellular therapy can be effective for any solid tumour. Like any good clinician scientist, he is working to make this treatment effective for patients with hepatobiliary and pancreatic cancers.  Up until now, these types of cancers have been less responsive. Dr. Turcotte’s lab aims to solve the mystery behind why TIL-based immunotherapies do not work for these two types of cancers. 

The proof of concept of the effectiveness of TIL-based cellular therapy was published in the journal Science in 2015 by Dr. Rosenberg’s team. The survival of a patient with metastatic bile tract cancer is a testament to the study’s success. The patient has recovered and survived thanks to this cutting-edge therapy. Dr. Turcotte is motivated to pursue his research in this field given that this therapeutic approach has been shown to be successful for metastatic bile tract cancer.

The patient is a tremendous source of inspiration for Dr. Turcotte. She is a guiding light in the struggle to understand and perfect TIL-based cellular therapy for hepatobiliary and pancreatic cancers and, eventually, for a wider variety of cancers.