Dr. Krishna Komanduri is a cancer immunologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth, the University of Miami Health System. To make an appointment, call 305-243-1000. For more about CAR-T Cell Therapy, click here to visit the University of Miami’s health news blog.
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Raimundo Pita believes in lucky breaks. Following his diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2014, he underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy that had little effect on his cancer. Then, he received a call from doctors at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center who were participating in a clinical trial to test a new type of immunotherapy for patients like Raimundo.
“Thank God they called me,” he said. The trial was for CAR-T Cell Therapy, a type of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. In January, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved two forms of CAR-T therapy for the treatment of advanced blood cancers in adults.
“When Raimundo first came to us we didn’t have lines of therapy that were expected to lead to a lasting remission,” says Dr. Krishna Komanduri, Director of Adult Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program at Sylvester. “Now he’s doing very well with a treatment that didn’t exist not long ago.”
For many patients whose cancer has not responded to traditional chemotherapy, CAR-T therapy is providing remarkable results. Two weeks after the completion of treatment, Raimundo’s cancer was undetectable.
To administer the therapy, a patient’s white blood cells are collected and sent to a manufacturer who modifies the cells with the CAR-T therapy. A new receptor allows the cell to recognize and attack cancer cells, says Dr. Komanduri. The enhanced cells are frozen when they arrive at Sylvester. The cells are thawed in the clinic and infused into the patient at the bedside.READ MORE: Residents fed up with Biscayne Bay parties
Only five to ten percent of blood cancer patients who fail their first line of therapy see their cancer go away completely. But with CAR-T therapy, the odds improve dramatically. Currently, cancer becomes completely undetectable in 50 percent of patients who receive CAR-T therapy.
“I’ve been a cancer immunologist for 20 years and for decades I’ve hoped for these results,” says Dr. Komanduri. “It’s a dream for many of us compared to what we expected just a few years ago.”
Raimundo remains cancer free two years following treatment. He has returned to life as a father and grandfather with hope for the future knowing he contributed to a study that saved his life, and changed medicine forever.
“We see the excitement and gratitude in our patients,” says Dr. Komanduri. “We are equally grateful.”
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