Promising new lymphoma treatment gets fast-tracked by FDA

NEW YORK -- Three years ago, Tomas Sandoval was looking forward to the birth of his second child when he was diagnosed with a rare form of a blood cancer called lymphoma.

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Thomas Sandoval

CBS News

Despite chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, the cancer returned before his daughter’s first birthday.

“Everything is at stake. Being around for my daughter, my son, my wife. Yeah it was a really tough time,” he said.

Sandoval is alive today because of an experimental form of immunotherapy called CAR-T.

Normally, our immune cells are good at killing invaders like bacteria but bad at fighting cancer. With CAR-T, a patient’s own immune cells are removed from the body, reprogrammed to find and destroy cancer cells, then put back into the bloodstream.

On Friday, Moffitt Cancer Center and MD Anderson reported test results of 101 patients with advanced lymphoma who had failed previous therapy and were treated with CAR-T.

“It puts a GPS navigation on the front of the cell so that when they’re infused back in they know where to go and kill the lymphoma,” said Dr. Frederick Locke, who helped lead the trial. 

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Dr. Frederick Locke

CBS News

About eight months after a single treatment, 39 percent of patients had no evidence of cancer.

“That’s actually quite remarkable knowing that at best only one out of 10 of these patients could have complete disappearance of their lymphoma with standard chemotherapy,” Locke said.

Side effects included flu-like symptoms and confusion, and there were three treatment-related deaths.

The FDA will review these results and could make a decision on approval by the end of the year.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook