Moffitt Celebrates Cell Therapy Milestone

By Steve Blanchard - May 28, 2021

Six years after being at the forefront of a new personalized therapy that uses a patient’s own cells to combat cancer, Moffitt Cancer Center has treated its 500th patient with chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR T.

It’s a type of therapy that Dr. Frederick Locke, vice chair of the Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Department and co-leader of the Immunology Program at Moffitt, describes as a game changer, specifically for patients with certain types of blood cancers who have failed two or more lines of therapy.

“We first started treating lymphoma patients on a clinical trial with CAR T cell therapy six years ago,” Locke said. “We were amazed at how some patients’ lymphoma would just melt away. We now have patients, who had no other viable treatment options at the time, who are in ongoing complete remission six years later after a single infusion of CAR T cells.”

portrait of blockquote author

"We now have patients, who had no other viable treatment options at the time, who are in ongoing complete remission six years later after a single infusion of CAR T cells."

- Dr. Frederick Locke

CAR T therapy reengineers a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer. For this treatment, the patient’s T cells are removed and modified with additional receptors to help identify, attack and ultimately destroy the cancer cells. The reengineered T cells are then infused back into the patient’s body in a single treatment, enabling the body’s immune system to better combat the disease.

Richard Jennings of Sebastian, Fla. credits Moffitt and new discoveries like CAR T-cell therapy with keeping him alive. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2009 and recently became Moffitt’s 500th patient to undergo CAR-T cell therapy. He is also the first patient at Moffitt to be treated with Abecma®, a new BCMA CAR T-cell therapy, as a standard of care treatment. The therapy was approved by the FDA in March.

“I’m at my limit, as far as chemicals go,” Jennings said. “There just aren’t that many more things they can give me – I’ve been through the whole gamut.”

Originally, doctors told Jennings that he could expect to live three to five years after his initial diagnosis. With new therapies like CAR T, he remains optimistic that he can continue enjoying life with his wife, Delores, and their grandchildren.

Jennings was treated in Moffitt’s new state-of-the-art Immune Cell Therapy unit (ICE-T), which gives patients and caregivers a better treatment experience. First opened in early 2020, the unit has 12 inpatient beds and eight treatment bays for outpatient visits. 

“The unit combines inpatient and outpatient services. So patients are treated in the same general area with the same team members throughout their continuum of care,” said Crystal Mock, patient care manager in the ICE-T unit.

When Jennings learned he would be receiving a newly approved CAR T therapy for his cancer, he put his trust in the doctors.

“I wasn’t leery or confused about what they wanted to do,” Jennings said. “Through the years I’ve seen so many different chemicals and types of chemotherapy that this just seemed like another day in the ballpark. They told me that they had something they wanted to try, and I’ve been blessed with some really great doctors.”

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