(Intermountain Healthcare) Patients with lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and multiple myeloma now have access to a highly specialized CAR T-cell therapy at Intermountain Healthcare that doctors say is changing and saving lives.

CAR T-cell therapy works by collecting a patient’s own immune cells, genetically modifying them to recognize an antigen on targeted tumor cells. The cells are then multiplied in a laboratory and infused back into the patient. Those new cells then recognize and attack the cancer cells.

“We’re teaching the immune system how to recognize cancer,” said Brad Hunter, MD, an oncologist and director of immune effector cell therapy at Intermountain Healthcare. “We’ve figured out how to insert DNA into the immune cells and that’s what we do. Then those immune cells can be better educated on how to fight the patient’s cancer and then when we put them back in the body to go to work.”

March is Myeloma Awareness Month and earlier this month the FDA approved CAR T-cell therapy for patients with refractory/relapsed multiple myeloma.

Dr. Hunter said this new FDA approval will give Intermountain two options for CAR T-cell treatment options for multiple myeloma patients, leading to more access for treatment and resulting in better overall survival.

Intermountain first started offering CAR T-cell therapy in 2018, but the therapy’s side effects were quite difficult for patients to go through. Through involvement in clinical trials and research, the team at Intermountain was able to develop new therapeutic techniques so that most patients can receive therapy without a required hospital stay.

Intermountain now currently uses five different CAR T-cell treatments.

In 2020, Car T-cell therapy was used to treat 15 patients and more than 25 patients were treated at Intermountain in 2021.

CAR T-cell therapy can be expensive and does come with potential side effects brought about by the resulting activation of the patient’s immune system. That’s why patients are monitored closely to address any potential complications.

Dr. Hunter says most patients tolerate the CAR T-cell therapy better than chemotherapy.

“For lymphoma, 70-80% of patients respond to some degree to CAR T-cell therapy and about 55% of patients will not have detectable disease on post-treatment CT scans,” said Dr. Hunter. “At Intermountain LDS Hospital, 79% of patients are showing improvement after treatment and 64% do not show any sign of the disease after treatment. For myeloma, over 95% of patients are responding to therapy in clinical trials and with the most recently FDA-approved CAR T products.”

Intermountain is also involved in other CAR T-Cell clinical trials and have other trials opening later this year, including additional targeted immune therapies.

For more information on CAR T-Cell, cellular therapies, or any cancer related questions, call the Intermountain Cancer Answers Hotline at 833-321-3332.

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