• By Sara Tiner

Cancer to COVID-19: Experimental treatment pivots in record time

June 24, 2021

At the beginning of 2020, everyone in research and medicine who could pivot to focus on COVID-19 did. Scientists and physicians hauled out findings from previous epidemics. In papers and personal correspondence, they shared descriptions of the damage wrought by SARS-CoV-2. They started running potential drugs through their paces.

"When you have a completely new infection, and it's of epidemic and pandemic proportion, there is a lot of scrambling to figure out how to deal with it," says Zelalem Temesgen, M.D., a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist.

At Mayo Clinic, it was a sort of controlled scramble. Cross-discipline relationships and a culture of collaboration are already part of the institution's fabric and that saved time. Years in one case. With a united science and medical infrastructure, Mayo Clinic researchers raced through the scientific steps to repurpose a cancer therapy into a clinical trial for COVID-19 treatment in less than a year.

In CAR-T cell therapy, scientists isolate T cells from the bloodstream of a person with a certain kind of cancer. Then, they genetically engineer the T cells to display a "lock" on their cell membrane that will recognize a protein "key" on a cancer cell. Then the modified T cells are multiplied in the lab and infused back into the patient. There, they begin to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.

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