Taking Care of Your Health

CAR T Cancer Therapy a ‘Huge Breakthrough’ for Patients with Lymphoma

October 18, 2017

DrFredLocke-CART-640.jpg Dr. Frederick Locke, right, speaks with Jeff Backer, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014.

Moffitt Cancer Center patients with an aggressive type of lymphoma were among the first to benefit in clinical trials of a groundbreaking new therapy now approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Called Yescarta™, it uses the patient’s own immune system to seek out and kill cancer cells.

Jeff Backer of Orlando was one of those patients. Diagnosed in 2014 with diffuse large B cell lymphoma, he repeatedly relapsed despite chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

“The secret to being a successful cancer survivor,” Backer says, “is just stay alive long enough until technology catches up to your disease.”

At Kite’s commercial manufacturing facility, cell therapy specialists work to isolate a patient’s T cells and prepare to engineer them to express a CAR. Photo from Kite, a Gilead Company, Manufacturing Facility, El Segundo, CA. Learn more about CAR-T

Backer found it at Moffitt, where his transplant physician Frederick Locke, MD, was a Co-lead Principal Investigator of Yescarta’s pivotal national multicenter clinical trial.

Dr. Locke explains that Yescarta is a chimeric antigen receptor therapy, also known as CAR T. Infection-fighting T-cells are gathered from the patient’s blood and re-engineered in a laboratory to target and kill the cancer cells.

Infused back into the patient’s veins, the CAR-T cells can cause side effects that require close monitoring and supportive care in the hospital.

But their effect on the cancer can be swift. Cancerous nodules that covered Backer’s body “just melted away within a week,” he says. Now more than a year and a half later, Backer remains in remission.

“I never really expected to be cured of this,” Backer reflects. “This has been a blessing for me.”

“The results have been remarkable,” says Locke, vice chair of the Department of Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy at Moffitt, noting that more than half the patients treated in clinical trials achieved complete response. “This is a huge breakthrough. It really offers an option for patients who are otherwise without hope.”

Now that the FDA has approved Yescarta for patients with certain aggressive lymphomas who don’t respond to standard treatment, thousands more like Backer will have access to that hope.

If you’d like to learn more about CAR T therapy, you can contact Moffitt Cancer Center at 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.