Northside Hospital Cancer Institute is among select centers in the country to offer chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy, for adult patients with certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Yescarta is the first-ever, FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy to treat adults with certain types of large B-cell lymphoma, who have not responded to or who have relapsed after at least two other kinds of treatment. The treatment is one of several therapies available from Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s newly launched Immunotherapy Program.
Immunotherapy works by taking immune cells, genetically modifying them to be better tumor-fighting immune cells, multiplying them to great numbers (tens of thousands), and then infusing them into the patient where they can find and attack cancer.
“At Northside Hospital, we have been doing immunotherapy for decades in the form of allogeneic stem cell transplantation, in which a donor’s bone marrow or blood is engineered and transplanted into a patient to cure aggressive blood cancers,” said Scott Solomon, medical director of Northside’s Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Matched Unrelated Donor Program and Stem Cell Processing Laboratory.
Northside Hospital is nationally recognized for leukemia treatment and stem cell transplantation. For nine consecutive years, the BMT Program at Northside has exceeded expected one-year survival outcomes for allogeneic transplants and is one of only two centers in the country (the only center in the Southeast) to do that.
Such transplants represented the first definitive proof of the human immune system’s capacity to cure cancer. Now, through studying CAR T-cells, cancer researchers are developing new ways to strengthen and empower a patient’s own immune system.
“It’s really just been over the last 5-10 years that tools are becoming available where we can think about stimulating a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer,” said Dr. Solomon, who added that CAR T-cell therapy is one of the most exciting and most promising cell-based immunotherapies and is giving hope to patients who previously didn’t have it.
“We’re targeting CAR T-cell therapy now to patients who have failed multiple rounds of conventional therapy,” said Dr. Solomon. “These patients historically have had very poor outcomes, very low chances of even brief remissions and certainly no chances of a cure prior to CAR T-cell therapy. And now many of them are alive months or years after therapy.”
To date, Kite Pharma, Inc., which makes Yescarta®, has certified approximately 45 cancer centers nationwide to offer its new treatment. Northside is one of just two facilities in Georgia that has the capacity and facilities to manage the toxicity of immunotherapy agents and that is certified to offer Yescarta®.
Although CAR T-cell therapy only just became available commercially in 2017, Northside participated in novel CAR T-cell therapy clinical trials for years and has the experience to care for patients who may develop mild to severe immunological side effects.
In May 2018, the hospital expanded its state-of-the-art BMT unit from 36 to 56 beds to accommodate anticipated growth of the hospital’s Immunotherapy Program.
“I think we’re just at the beginning of tapping the role of immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer,” said Dr. Solomon. “Any cancer can theoretically be targeted with immunotherapy, but there are many new drugs, agents and cell-based therapies that we have now which can target a whole array of different cancers, blood cancers and solid tumors.”