As world leaders in immunotherapy, Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center is imagining the day when its physicians can offer more successful, less toxic cancer treatments.
August 30, 2017, marked a major milestone toward that goal. On that day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Novartis approval for the world’s first-ever cancer cell and gene therapy for advanced leukemia. The chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, Kymriah™ (tisagenlecleucel, formerly CTL019) was approved for patients up to 25 years old with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that is refractory to treatment or in second or later relapse.
This fascinating approach, which is at the leading edge of the emerging field of immunotherapy, involves extracting a patient’s diseasefighting blood cells, modifying them to recognize and attack cancer cells more vigorously, and then reinjecting them into the patient.
Kymriah™ is available through a network of certified treatment centers throughout the United States. Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) became two of the first centers that met all levels of certification for approval.
This new immunotherapy was used at CHOP for the first pediatric patient in the world, a six-year-old whose leukemia stopped responding to conventional treatments. Her cancer remains in remission five years later. In a larger global clinical trial, sponsored by Novartis, researchers are seeing overall remission rates over 80 percent, which is a remarkable improvement upon previous treatment success rates.
Kymriah is a game-changer for the treatment of younger patients battling ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) and a pivotal milestone in this new era of cellular therapies that treat cancer with a patient’s own immune system. Therapies like this open up opportunities for patients across the world who desperately need new options when traditional treatments become ineffective or their disease returns.
Penn Medicine’s success in harnessing the immune system to treat leukemia has led to breakthroughs in myeloma and lymphoma, progress in solid tumor cancers like breast, prostate, and lung cancer, and explorations into diabetes, cardiology, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The goal is to eventually extend this work to many other diseases.
The development of Kymriah was a collaboration between industry, academia, healthcare professionals, patients and caregivers.
To learn more about the revolution happening in immunotherapy and to get involved, visit www. PennMedicine.org/ ImmunoRevolution
SUSAN LOCKE is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.
Treatment for ALL usually needs to start very soon after it is diagnosed, but if time permits, traditional treatment of ALL could involve several different stages of treatments over the course of two years – The main types of treatment used for ALL are:
- Targeted therapy (drugs that target specific parts of cancer cells)
- Stem cell transplant
In general, about 80% to 90% of adults will have complete remissions at some point during these treatments. This means leukemia cells can no longer be seen in their bone marrow. Unfortunately, about half of these patients relapse, so the overall cure rate is around 40%. Again, these rates vary depending on the subtype of ALL and other prognostic factors.
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