Most doctors tend to be cautious about throwing around phrases and words like game changing and groundbreaking — particularly when it comes to cancer treatments. But CAR T-cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy, is offering hope where there was none before.
Last year, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center began providing the novel therapy that genetically alters a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer.
The approved CAR T-cell therapies are for adults with advanced large B-cell lymphoma and for children and young adults with the most common childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, known as ALL. For both blood cancers, the treatment is intended for patients who have not responded to standard treatments — chemotherapy and/or bone marrow transplantation — or whose cancer has returned after receiving the standard therapies. At that point, prospects for survival can be dire.
Though approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for two types of cancer, CAR T-cell treatments for other cancers and life-threatening diseases are just a matter of time, experts say.
“Like the invention of radiation therapy, or the bone marrow transplant, or the first chemotherapy drugs, this could be the beginning of something quite spectacular,” says Dr. Koen van Besien, director of the Stem Cell Transplant Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“Clinical trials that are already active at our centers examine the utility of CAR T cells in other types of lymphoma, myeloma, and certain solid tumors such as pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and sarcoma,” adds Dr. Ran Reshef, director of translational research in the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and clinical lead for the CAR T-Cell Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.
Here, Drs. van Besien and Reshef answer questions about CAR T-cell therapy, and discuss what this major stride means for the future of cancer treatment.