New treatment for lymphoma patients called a “revolution”

VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first hospital to offer the FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy to...
VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first hospital to offer the FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy to B-cell lymphoma patients (Source: VCU Massey Cancer Center)(VCU Massey Cancer Center)
Updated: Nov. 15, 2018 at 5:32 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Doctors at VCU Massey Cancer Center say they’re dealing with a revolution in bone marrow transplantation thanks to a new type of cancer treatment.

The Center is the first in the state to offer the FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy for adult patients with recurrent or refractory B-cell lymphoma.

Jonathan Newby, of Chesterfield, was the first patient in the state to undergo this approved treatment, receiving the infusion in August, after more than five years battling B-cell lymphoma.

And his results are overwhelmingly positive.

“I looked and I was like wow,” Newby said. “It was just wow, it's totally different.”

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans taken before and after the treatment show the difference.

On the left you can see bright yellow spots which highlight the cancer cells in some of Newby’s organs. On the right, it is almost entirely gone.

"Three months after the infusion, we see a complete resolution or disappearance of all the brightness here in the liver, the spleen and the lymph nodes as well," said hematologist-oncologist Gary Simmons, D.O., deputy director of the Cellular Immunotherapies and Transplantation Program at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

"It's glorious,” added hematologist-oncologist John McCarty, M.D., director of the Cellular Immunotherapies and Transplantation Program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “The fact that four, five, six, seven therapies that really weren't successful... to see this result."

In July, Newby’s T-cells, a type of immune system cell, were collected and then separated from the blood by a machine. Those T-cells are then genetically modified in a laboratory and given back to the patient through an infusion.

“The preliminary results have been fantastic,” McCarty added.

McCarty said the infused cells recognize the cancer cells and attack them.

“It’s basically just a one-shot deal,” Newby said. “You just get an infusion when the cells come back.”

Doctors said this is an advantage of Car T-cell therapy, usually requiring one week of in-patient care, as opposed to the six months or more of chemotherapy, specialized post-transplant care and lifestyle restrictions typically required for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and childhood leukemia patients who no longer respond to conventional therapies.

There isn't any long-term data on this therapy yet, but doctors are optimistic it could help in the fight against other cancers.

“This is being worked on and is in clinical trials against lots of different tumors right now,” Simmons said. “Particularly some of the solid tumors, as you mentioned breast, head and neck cancers, ovarian and cervical cancers as well."

And for Newby who went through chemotherapy and an autologus (self) stem cell transplant before, this treatment is leaving him feeling better both physically and emotionally.

"It's been a lot better,” he said. “I think my results are more optimistic with what's going on."

Each patient in the Massey Cellular Immunotherapies and Transplantation program is carefully evaluated before the team recommends the combination and sequence of treatments they believe will provide the best possible outcomes and quality of life.

“While CAR T-cell therapies can potentially offer lasting and durable remission from cancer, they also can carry a risk for serious side effects related to how they work,” Simmons said.

Newby said he did have some side effects after the infusion, including fevers and some speech issues, but said things have gotten better.

The cancer center will soon offer another form of CAR T-therapy for children and young adult who have B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

For more information on this type of treatment, visit the Massey Cancer Center’s website.

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