The Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been named a host institution for an international clinical trial analyzing the safety and effectiveness of an investigational cellular therapy treatment for children fighting cancer. The research is part of a collaborative international study sponsored by Novartis.
For decades, traditional treatments for cancer have included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But for those who have not responded to treatment through these methods, the international study offers a new investigational immunotherapy treatment that relies on a patient’s own immune system to potentially defeat cancer.
“We are optimistic about the potential of this therapy,” said Dr. Cynthia Wetmore, director of the Developmental Therapeutics Program at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s. “This is the next step in pediatric cancer research, and Children’s is playing a vital role in getting this to the kids who need it most.”
The process involves reprogramming a patient’s immune cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. The new CTL019 cells are created by removing the patients’ own T-cells and reprogramming them to target specific proteins on cancer cells. Millions of such CTL019 cells are grown before re-infusing them into the patient, where the cells aim to seek out and destroy the cancer.
This approach, referred to chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (or CAR-T) technology has yielded promising results in early stage trials, especially with pediatric patients with relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who had no other known curative treatment options. However, side effects, such as cytokine release syndrome, need to be carefully managed.
“Most of the patients in the study are therapy resistant and have no other traditional methods left to help them,” said Dr. Wetmore. “Immunotherapy is an exciting new investigational frontier in cancer treatment that is giving hope to many people.”