Today is a very significant day in the progress toward cancer cures. An advisory committee of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) unanimously recommended approval of a revolutionary new treatment for patients with relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – an immunotherapy called CAR-T (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell) immunotherapy.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recognized the early promise of this new approach, which uses the body’s own immune system to find and kill cancer cells.
In fact, since 1998 LLS has invested $21 million in the work of Carl June, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, who is credited with pioneering this therapy.
Children like Austin Schuetz are the reason why this therapy is so important.
In May 2011, when Kimberly Schuetz was starting to plan her son Austin’s third birthday, he was diagnosed with a high-risk form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Austin was immediately placed on a chemotherapy regimen.
However, when a routine blood test revealed that he relapsed in October 2012, their only option was a bone marrow transplant to save his life. After that transplant, his cancer came back for the third time in May 2013.
At five years old, Austin had been dealing with leukemia for the majority of his young life. His parents enrolled him into a clinical trial for a new immunotherapy treatment. It was their only hope.
The pioneering therapy was administered to Austin at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Today, at age 10, he is in remission.
Austin was treated with CAR T-cell immunotherapy, which has proven to be effective in other patients with certain types of leukemia and lymphoma. Dozens of adults and children near death are now in remission, and some remain healthy up to five years after treatment.
Because we believe so strongly in immunotherapy, LLS has invested $2.5 million in a CAR T-cell immunotherapy developed by Kite Pharma, which is currently under review by the FDA to treat patients with relapsed/refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The deadline for the FDA to decide on the Novartis treatment is October 3, but today’s decision might accelerate the timing. The deadline for the Kite decision is November 29. We are hopeful that the FDA will approve both of these breakthroughs for the patients who need them.
This is a game-changer and this exciting development is just the beginning in understanding the best way to incorporate immunotherapy into blood cancer treatments.
Clinical trials for these therapies are ongoing. If you are a blood cancer patient or caregiver interested in enrolling in a clinical trial, you can contact our clinical trial support specialists at the LLS Information Resource Center.
Gwen Nichols, M.D., is the Chief Medical Officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“Art is not what you see but what you make others see,” said Pablo Picasso. This is true for Larel Vaccaro’s incredible watercolor rendition of her experience at the 2015 Washington, DC, Light The Night walk.
The painting was inspired from a photograph she took of her boyfriend Henry’s parents, Heather and Eric Burneson. They are the couple pictured in the foreground with the red jackets on. It was taken just one day after Henry died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Heather is honored to share Laurel’s painting, which beautifully captured the walk she’ll never forget, and more importantly, Henry’s heroic journey. Here is her story…
My son, Henry, was diagnosed in January 2015 with ALL at the age of 16. After four rounds of chemotherapy, his aggressive form of ALL required a bone marrow transplant on May 1 – just two days before his seventeenth birthday. Henry endured the difficult procedure, and everything went as expected. He left the hospital on June 1.
Since he was immunocompromised and could not be in crowds, Henry had to miss his high school prom. The hospital staff and a local nonprofit organized a private prom for Henry and his girlfriend, Laurel, on June 5. They sent decorators, waiters, a chef, and even created a photo booth. For one night, Henry was not a cancer patient. He was just a high school boy dancing at the prom with his first love! It was truly the night of his life. He was admitted back into the hospital two days later with complications from his bone marrow transplant.
Laurel and his friends wanted to do something to help their friend, so they formed “Team Henry” for Light The Night. Even though Henry remained in the hospital throughout the summer, we looked ahead to Light The Night, knowing in our hearts he would be walking as a survivor.
Team Henry grew to more than 100 team members and raised more than $40,000. Our family and friends arranged to fly in from all over the country to be together that weekend and walk for Team Henry.
Unfortunately, Henry’s condition took a drastic turn for the worse on October 15. However, because of Light The Night, his grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, who were in town for the walk, were able to say goodbye. Henry was surrounded by those he loved most in the world when he died on Friday, October 16.
The Light The Night walk was the next day, and we all attended to honor Henry, to hold on to one another, to share tears and smiles, and to celebrate a beautiful life that ended far too soon.
I hope this story sheds light on all the reasons why people walk. We are taking steps to end cancer.
Henry Burneson, & Laurel Vaccaro at their prom, 2015
Henry Burneson, & Laurel Vaccaro, September 2014
Learn more about Light The Night and join us in bringing light to the darkness of cancer.
Not a day goes by without news reports about the financial toll of cancer care. It is also a theme running through the annual meeting of The American Society of Clinical Oncology (#ASCO17) in Chicago this week. In fact, 75 abstracts will be presented throughout the meeting on various aspects of financial toxicity.
An education session on Saturday featured several provocative presentations. Some raised questions about value frameworks, tools designed to help doctors and patients assess the value of a drug in relation to its cost, and whether such frameworks should be part of oncologists’ standard clinical practice. There is consensus that giving doctors and patients tools to make informed decisions is a positive step. However, among the drawbacks is the inconsistency of the methodology across the different frameworks brought forth by various organizations, including ASCO, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), and others.