Patrick Stiff, MD, Is Co-author of Landmark CAR-T Cell Cancer Treatment Study in New England Journal of Medicine | Cancer | Loyola Medicine
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Patrick Stiff, MD, Is Co-author of Landmark CAR-T Cell Cancer Treatment Study in New England Journal of Medicine

MAYWOOD, IL –  Loyola University Medical Center is the only Chicago center that participated in the pivotal clinical trial of a groundbreaking cancer treatment that genetically engineers a patient's immune system to attack cancer cells.

Patrick Stiff, MD, director of Loyola's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, is a co-author of the study, published December 10, 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The treatment used in the study, which involves a cell therapy called CAR-T, is offered by Kite Pharma. Two other companies, Novartis and Juno Therapeutics, also are developing CAR-T cell cancer treatments.  

Dr. Stiff said Loyola is preparing to offer the treatment early next year to carefully selected lymphoma patients who have failed earlier treatments. He cautioned that while the therapy could potentially cure patients who have run out of other options, it also can cause severe side effects. The cost of the treatment is also considerable to patients. Dr. Stiff said Loyola would carefully inform patients of the pros and cons of this new therapy if it is presented as an option.

"We are taking a very measured approach to this new therapy, which is effective, but also potentially toxic," Dr. Stiff said. "The therapy should not be considered a cure-all, since some of the patients did relapse after the therapy."

Based on results of the study, the Food and Drug Administration approved a CAR-T treatment called Yescarta. The study included 111 patients from 22 centers, including Loyola. The patients had certain types of large B-cell lymphoma and had not responded to or had relapsed after undergoing at least two other treatments, including chemotherapy and stem cell transplants.

To fight the cancer, the treatment harnesses a patient's T cells (white blood cells that are part of the immune system). T cells are collected from the patient and sent to a lab. There, the cells are genetically modified to include a gene that instructs the cells to target and kill lymphoma cells. Millions of these genetically modified T cells then are infused back into the patient.

In the study, 42 percent of patients who underwent the CAR-T treatment were in complete remission after a median follow-up of 15.4 months. "This is impressive, since most patients had exhausted all other care options," Dr. Stiff said.

Details in the report included that 95 percent of patients experienced at least one side effect that was severe. Thirteen percent experienced life-threatening cytokine release syndrome (CRS), which can cause high fever and flu-like symptoms, and 28 percent of patients experienced  neurologic problems including encephalopathy (diseased brain), 21 percent;  confused state, 9 percent; aphasia (difficulty communicating), 7 percent; and somnolence (excessive sleepiness), 7 percent. Other side effects included coma, serious infections, low blood cell counts and weakened immune systems.

The study found that the incidence of CRS and severe neurologic problems decreased over the course of the study, possibly due to the centers gaining more experience and this trend has continued.

Dr. Stiff said Loyola's participation in the clinical trial, along with its extensive experience in treating patients with lymphoma and other blood cancers, will help in providing the safest possible CAR-T treatments.

"We are developing a system to treat carefully selected patients who might benefit from the therapy with a maximum of benefits and a minimum of toxicities," he said.

The cure rate in the CAR-T study was similar to the approximate 45 percent cure rate from an allogeneic bone marrow transplant. In this well-established treatment, healthy stem cells obtained from a donor's bone marrow are infused into the patient.

"Centers such as Loyola, which have expertise in both therapies, now will be able to offer additional treatment options to produce long-term remissions and cures in patients with advanced lymphomas," Dr. Stiff said.

The study is titled "Axicagagene Ciloleucel (CD19 CAR T) in Refractory Large B-Cell Lymphoma."

The study was led by Sattva Neelapu, MD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Frederick Locke, MD, of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

About Loyola Medicine

Loyola Medicine is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC) in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (GMH) in Melrose Park, MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from more than 1,772 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. The medical center campus is also home to Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. GMH is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments in a convenient community setting. Loyola Medicine is a member of Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest health systems with 94 hospitals in 22 states.

About Trinity Health

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 93 hospitals, as well as 122 continuing care programs that include PACE, senior living facilities, and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $17.6 billion and assets of $23.4 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity Health employs about 131,000 colleagues, including 7,500 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity Health is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services — ranked by number of visits — in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs. For more information, visit www.trinity-health.org. You can also follow @TrinityHealthMI on Twitter.