New cancer treatment offers hope

Posted at 9:50 AM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 11:50:43-05

Patients with lymphoma now have access to a highly specialized CAR T-cell therapy at Intermountain Healthcare that doctors say is changing and saving lives.

CAR T-cell therapy works by collecting a patient’s own immune cells, genetically modifying them to recognize an antigen on targeted tumor cells. The cells are then multiplied in a laboratory and infused back into the patient. Those new cells then recognize and attack the cancer cells.

“We’re teaching the immune system how to recognize cancer,” said Brad Hunter, MD, an oncologist and director of immune effector cell therapy at Intermountain Healthcare. “We’ve figured out how to insert DNA into the immune cells and that’s what we do. Then those immune cells can be better educated on how to fight the patient’s cancer and then when we put them back in the body they go to work.”

Intermountain first started offering CAR T-cell therapy in 2018, but the therapy’s side effects were quite difficult for patients to go through. Recently, newer therapies have emerged and can be given to patients without a required hospital stay. This therapy, called Breyanzi, was first introduced at Intermountain in 2019 on clinical trials, and has since been FDA approved for regular use. In 2020, Car T-cell therapy was been used to treat 15 patients and more than 25 patients have been treated at Intermountain in 2021.

Rodney Henderson, 79, is one of those patients, who was able to enroll in one of the clinical trials.

Henderson was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of a type of blood cell called lymphocytes. After chemotherapy and surgery, the cancer returned. He then received CAR T-cell therapy, a one-time infusion.

“It was a slam dunk!” said Henderson. “They saved my life!”

CAR T-cell therapy can be expensive and does come with potential side effects brought about the resulting activation of the patient’s immune system. That’s why patients are monitored closely to address any potential complications.

Dr. Hunter says most patients tolerate the CAR T-cell therapy better than chemotherapy.

In February 2021, the FDA approved CAR T-cell therapy for treatment of relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. This is the third CAR T-cell therapy approved by the FDA.

Dr. Hunter said 70-80% of patients usually respond to some degree to CAR T-cell therapy and that about 55% of patients will not have detectable disease on post-treatment CT scans. At Intermountain LDS Hospital, he said 79% of patients are showing improvement after treatment and 64% do not show any sign of the disease after treatment.

Before CAR-T-cell therapy Dr. Hunter said Rodney was really sick and had been given about six months to live. For Rodney, who is now cancer free, he says it’s been life changing and is now enjoying walking and getting back on his bike.

Five years ago, he walked 500 miles across Northern Spain, walking 17 miles a day. This spring he plans to return and walk it again.

For more information on CAR T-Cell therapy or any cancer related questions, call the Intermountain Cancer Answers hotline at 833-321-3332.