CAR-T Therapy is a Game-Changer for Common Type of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

People who have the most common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, large B cell lymphoma, could really benefit from a type of immunotherapy called CAR-T therapy, according to new research.

A trial called the ZUMA-1 trial showed that 39% of people with relapsed large B cell lymphoma treated with a type of CAR-T called Yescarta remained in remission for more than two years following therapy. What’s more, according to the research published in The Lancet Oncology, more than half of the people given this type of CAR-T therapy are still living. Relapsed large B cell lymphoma is a really devastating disease, so these findings are incredibly important.

“ZUMA-1 has changed the standard of care for patients with the most common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” says Dr. Joseph McGuirk, director of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics at the University of Kansas Hospital.

“Historically for these patients, [who have relapsed], the likelihood of having a remission with subsequent therapy was about 7%. So it’s a terrible, devastating problem with the most common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And only about 16 to 18% of those patients would be alive after two years. With the ZUMA-1 trial, using CAR-T cells, the complete remission rate exceeds 50% … that’s kind of hitting it out of the park,” Dr. McGuirk says.

CAR-T therapy involves removing T-cells, or cells responsible for killing viruses and bacteria, from the body, reprogramming the cells so that they are better prepared to fight cancer, and placing them back in the body to attack cancerous cells. CAR-T therapy has shown a lot of promise in clinical trials for several blood cancers. It was first approved by the FDA for a specific type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2017. The progress in the past year alone is really quite exciting.

The results of the ZUMA-1 trial, were presented over the weekend at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting (ASH) in San Diego. SurvivorNet was on the ground at the conference to get the latest hematology news.

Currently, there are several other clinical trials looking at CAR-T therapy and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as luekemias and multiple myeloma, that are underway, according to Dr. McGuirk. And with such promising results, researchers hope that CAR-T will eventually be approved as a treatment option earlier in the disease process, and though they are not there yet – there’s plenty of hope.

“CAR-T cells are being studied for several cancers,” Dr. McGuirk says. “It’s not hyperbole. I’ve been a blood cancer specialist for 30 years now. In my career, this is by far the most exciting, hopeful, promising time in cancer therapeutics.”

Dr. McGuirk did note, however, that there are a significant number of hurdles to overcome when it comes to CAR-T therapy. For one thing, the therapy is very expensive, and people may run into insurance issues when trying to get it. There can also be pretty significant side effects.

“Although we have constructs approved … we have a lot of work underway,” Dr. McGuirk says.

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