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Jan Freeland was pulling weeds in her yard when she noticed something wasn’t quite right. Her hip hurt. She visited a doctor who told her it was an injury that needed time to heal. But as time went on, her pain became so severe that she needed crutches to get around. Freeland decided to see an orthopedic specialist who gave her some startling news: A scan revealed a mass on her hip and she needed to see an oncologist.

After undergoing several tests, Freeland, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer that had spread to her hip. “It was shocking news,” she said. “I have dealt with cancer before. First I had surgery for thyroid cancer and then battled melanoma. But I never expected this.” 

Freeland’s treatment was also out of the ordinary. She is one of a small group of patients participating in a phase 1 study investigating a combination immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer. The therapy involves nivolumab, a targeted immunotherapy drug, in conjunction with adoptive T-cell therapy. During adoptive therapy, a patient’s tumor is removed; immune cells found inside the tumor called tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are extracted and sent to a lab where they are multiplied. The TILs, which are essentially cancer-killing cells, are then infused back into the patient to find and destroy the cancer.

The study is funded through the Stand Up To Cancer Catalyst® Program, which allows industry and academic scientists in the cancer community conducting collaborative team research. The Moffitt TIL study is a partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb with additional assistance from Iovance and Prometheus Laboratories.

Dr. Scott Antonia, principal investigator of the Moffitt study

“Immunotherapy has changed the way we are treating lung cancer, but there are still opportunities to make these types of therapies even better for patients,” said Dr. Scott Antonia, medical oncologist and principal investigator for the TIL study. “Thanks to our generous grant from the Stand Up To Cancer Catalyst Program, we are taking a big step toward accelerating a new therapy that could help the hundreds of thousands of patients diagnosed with this disease each year.”

That includes Freeland, who says the investigational treatment is working for her. “My tumors are shrinking and I have little to no side effects.”