Hackensack University Medical Center's John Theurer Cancer Center (JTC) is aiming to become the premiere immunotherapy treatment center on the East Coast.
Last week it became the only hospital in New Jersey and just one of 10 cancer centers in the country to offer CAR T cell therapy for B-cell lymphoma – a rare type of lymphoma that often meant a death sentence for those afflicted. The treatment typically involved a bone marrow transplant that frequently led to a relapse and a weakened immune system.
The new treatment was approved for adults with B-Cell lymphoma last week by the US Food and Drug Administration under the brand name Yerscarta, and patented to Los Angeles-based Kite Pharma. Rather than perform a bone marrow transplant, the new treatment collects the patient’s T-cells, a type of white blood cell, and genetically modifies them to include a new gene that targets and kills the lymphoma cells. Once the cells are modified, they are infused back into the patient.
According to the FDA, approximately 72,000 new cases of non-Hodgkins lymphoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year--with B-cell lymphoma comprising one in three newly diagnosed cases. Yescarta is approved for use in adult patients with large B-cell lymphoma after at least two other kinds of treatment failed.
The JTC Center, which has had an ongoing partnership with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, was chosen by the FDA to be one of the few cancer centers in the country to offer the treatment because of its experience and expertise in immunotherapy. Sloan Kettering will also offer the therapy.
“We have performed over 6,500 [bone marrow] transplants, and we now do 500 transplants per year. We initiated this research five years ago and we have done a lot of cell therapy and know how to handle these types of patients,” said Dr. Andre Goy, one of the chief oncologists at JTC Center.
The treatment has already seen an 85 percent response rate among patients. “This treatment is a game changer,” Goy told NJBIZ. “This is for patients who have no other options.” The treatment is also offered to children in Hackensack Medical’s Sanzari Children’s Hospital.
Goy noted that Sloan Kettering is no longer the only option for cancer patients in the Northeast who need treatment. He added that the JTC Center has gotten an influx of “retro-commuters” over the past five years – that is, patients who come from New York City and Connecticut to be treated for cancer.
“We are only about 25 years old and we have already had a significant impact on blood cancers because we have a very strong focus on that,” he said. “We have other forms of immunotherapies such as one that will wake up the immune system after bone marrow transplants. This is something that is also very promising in the form of immunotherapy.”