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Local residents with certain cancers are now being offered a new treatment that is showing promising results, according to Northside Hospital Cancer Institute officials.

The NHCI Immunotherapy Program has expanded its treatment options with a second chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapy to treat certain types of cancers.

Kymriah CAR T-cell therapy is made from a patient’s own white blood cells. The prescription cancer treatment is used in patients up to 25 years old who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia that is either relapsing after remission or is refractory (did not go into remission after receiving other leukemia treatments.) It is also used in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that has relapsed or is refractory after having at least two other kinds of treatment.

“We’re targeting CAR T-cell therapy now to patients who have failed multiple rounds of conventional therapy,” said Dr. Scott Solomon, medical director of Northside’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Matched Unrelated Donor Program and Stem Cell Processing Laboratory, in a statement. “These patients historically have had very poor outcomes, very low chances of even brief remissions and certainly no chances of a cure prior to CAR T-cell therapy. And now many of them are alive months or years after therapy.”

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NCHI became certified to use Kymriah in January, according to a Northside Hospital spokesperson.

In CAR T-cell immunotherapy, T-cells are collected and engineered to produce chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, and are multiplied by billions in a lab. After a course of chemotherapy, the modified CAR T-cells are infused into the patient to find and destroy cancer cells.

The BMT unit at Northside's Atlanta campus is one of two specialized facilities in the state that offers immunotherapy. Last year, NHCI became one of a select group of centers in the country to offer Yescarta CAR T-cell therapy for adult patients with certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In addition to the two CAR T-cell therapies, NHCI participates in innovative clinical trials for CAR T-cell therapy in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Immunotherapy trials are available for patients with AML and other hematologic malignancies using technologies such as checkpoint inhibitors, bispecific T-cell engaging antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates.

Allogeneic stem cell transplantation, in which a donor’s bone marrow or blood is engineered and transplanted into a patient to cure aggressive blood cancers, has been part of the institute's immunotherapy program for decades. Northside Hospital is nationally recognized for leukemia treatment and stem cell transplantation. For 10 consecutive years, the BMT program at Northside has exceeded expected one-year survival outcomes for allogeneic transplants and is one of only two centers in the country and the only center in the Southeast to do that.

Such transplants represented the first definitive proof of the human immune system’s capacity to cure cancer. Now, through studying CAR T-cells, cancer researchers are developing new ways to strengthen and empower a patient’s own immune system.

For more information about the Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Immunotherapy Program, visit northside.com/immunotherapy.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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