NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Doctors say a new treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma might even be a cure.
The treatment uses a patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer.
As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, it’s actually the second similar treatment that the FDA has approved in just a few months. It’s a way to re-engineer a patient’s own cells to turn them into a living drug.
A 6 feet and 2 inches tall and 200 pounds, Chuck Fata was always active, healthy and loved food. It’s a good thing he’s in the restaurant business.
But about three years ago, he had some back pain that just wouldn’t go away.
“They found four tumors. After they found the tumors and they did a biopsy, they found out that it was large B-cell lymphoma,” he said.
Over the next two years, Fata had chemotherapy, surgery and a stem cell transplant.
“None of that was successful. They wanted to do radiation, but the cancer had spread too much,” he said.
Facing death, his doctor found a groundbreaking clinical trial at City of Hope National Medical Center in California. It takes a patient’s own white blood cells – a type known as T-cells – and genetically re-engineers them into a living drug called CAR-T therapy.
“The patients who are on these trials came to us with no other options, having progressed with other therapies” said Dr. Stephen Forman, of City of Hope.
How the re-education of the immune system works: T-cells are taken from Fata, then a virus is used to insert a gene into the cells. That tells the T-cells to make a receptor that attaches to markers on the surface of cancer cells, allowing the T-cells to do what they should and kill the cancer.
“Gives them hope for not just remission, but hopefully in some cases, cure,” Forman said.
The treatment itself can be brutal, setting off something called a cytokine storm that doctors have learned how to control.
Now about a year and a half later, Fata says he’s “doing great.”
“I never thought that I would feel this good,” he said. “I feel very lucky, I got my miracle.”
A similar CAR-T treatment was approved for a type of leukemia in kids in August.
The key is to find a marker on the cancer cells that can be engineered into the T-cells of the patient.
Oncologists think that’s going to be doable for most blood cancers, such as leukemias, lymphomas and multiple myloma.
But it won’t be cheap. The treatment, which will be called Yescarta, will costs $373,000 per patient.