UCLA Health is among a select group of health systems in the country certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to administer CAR T-cell therapy outside of clinical trials. Currently, UCLA is approved to treat certain types of lymphoma and leukemia in adults, pediatric and young-adult patients who have not benefited from two standard treatments.
“The degree to which some patients benefit is remarkable,” says Josh Sasine, MD, PhD, director of UCLA’s CAR T-cell program and a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Most successful therapies for advanced cancers increase overall survival by a few months but almost never cause long-term remissions. With CAR T cells, we’re seeing durations of benefit that are very long lasting — many years of cancer-free periods. About one-third to half of the patients who receive this therapy are having durable remissions.”
He cautions, however, that “the treatment is so new that we don’t yet know who has experienced a true cure.”
Dr. Sasine is hopeful that one day, CAR T-cell therapy can be extended to other forms of cancer. “It is significant that this treatment platform is very different from what we have done in oncology in the past, and, in principle, it is broadly applicable,” he says. “Until ongoing and future clinical trials are complete, we won’t know whether or not we can make CAR T cells recognize other forms of cancer. If we can, this could benefit many more patients.”
Testing for other cancers already is underway. “It is one thing to have success in the lab, but the fact that we are seeing so much success with CAR T cells validates the idea that we can genetically engineer the immune system to fight cancer,” Dr. Sasine says. “This is likely to encourage investigators to examine other strategies to genetically engineer immune cells for cancer therapy. It opens up an exciting new direction. I have not seen any other approach demonstrate this much success so quickly.”