Genetically tuning a person’s own immune cells to target cancer appears to provide long-lasting protection against a blood cancer called multiple myeloma, an early trial from China shows.
The treatment, called CAR T-cell therapy, caused 33 out of 35 patients with recurring multiple myeloma to either enter full remission or experience a significant reduction in their cancer.
The results are “impressive,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.
“These are patients who have had prior treatment and had their disease return, and 100 percent of the patients are reported to have had some form of meaningful response to these cells that were administered,” Lichtenfeld said.
The new therapy is custom-made for each patient. Doctors collect the patient’s own T-cells — one of the immune system’s main cell types — and genetically reprogram them to target and attack abnormal multiple myeloma cells.
Lead researcher Dr. Wanhong Zhao likened the process to fitting immune cells with a GPS that steers them to cancer cells — making them into professional killers that never miss their target.
Zhao is associate director of hematology at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an, China.
CAR T-cell therapy is promising because the genetically altered T-cells are expected to roost in a person’s body, multiplying and providing long-term protection, Lichtenfeld said.
“The theory is they should attack the tumor and continue to grow to become a long-term monitoring and treatment system,” Lichtenfeld said. “It’s not a one-shot deal.”
The technology represents the next step forward in immunotherapy for cancer, said Dr. Michael Sabel, chief of surgical oncology at the University of Michigan.