PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new treatment is giving hope to patients who have run out of options. It’s a scientific advancement that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
Judy Wilkins battled lymphoma for years. The cancer got aggressive and multiple rounds of chemotherapy didn’t help. In addition, she wasn’t a candidate for a stem cell transplant.
“I never really thought at that point it would be making choices on my life,” Wilkins said. “But then, I realized how sick I really was because I was in total denial about it.”
At the urging of her doctor, Wilkins tried an experimental treatment called CAR T-cell therapy. A patient’s own immune cells known as T-cells are engineered to find and kill cancer cells.
CAR T is custom made for each patient and delivered once.
“We give them some gentle chemotherapy for a couple of days in order to help T-cells grow better. Once we get them back into patient, then we infuse the patient with cells and we wait for them to do their job,” Dr. Caron Jacobson explained.
In a nationwide clinical trial, of the 101 patients who underwent treatment with CAR T, 84 percent responded to the therapy . Fifty-four percent had a complete response and went into remission.
“I’m really lucky, really lucky,” Wilkins said.
Dr. Jacobson says, “This is a tremendous deal. These are patients that have really exhausted the standard options.”
And while it’s still too early to tell if this therapy is a cure, Wilkins says, “They gave me my life back.”
Wilkins is grateful for another chance.
The treatment costs hundreds of thousand of dollars and it can cause serious side effects, so the FDA is requiring a long-term safety study as well as training for hospitals to quickly spot and manage reactions.