It could be a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer and it's happening in Richmond: VCU's Massey Cancer Center is the first and only center in the state to offer CAR T-Cell Immunotherapy. It was only approved by the FDA about 14 months ago.
“I just wanted relief,” cancer patient Jonathan Newby told 8News.
Now, the groundbreaking therapy is giving Newby, a Chesterfield resident, not only relief but possibly a clean bill of health.
Newby was first diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma six years ago. Chemotherapy was the first treatment.
“That process took about three or four months,” he explained.
Less than two years later, the blood cancer was back, and this time Newby needed a painful bone marrow transplant.
"A lot of chemo, a lot of chemo,” he recalled.
So, when the cancer returned again, Newby was understandably worried. That bone marrow transplant was grueling.
"I was not looking forward to doing that again,” he said.
That's when doctors at Massey Cancer Center suggested the newly FDA-approved CAR-t cell immunotherapy.
"This thing is brand spanking new,” Newby said.
Doctors first collected from Newby's blood t-cells. T-cells are a type of immune system cell.
"We collected his immune system cells. They were sent to a laboratory where they were genetically re-programmed to identify his lymphoma as a target,” explained Dr. John McCarty, director of Cellular Immunotherapies and Transplantation Program at VCU Massey Cancer Center.
A week later, the cells are returned by infusion. Now they’re ready to attack the cancer.
Dr. McCarty showed 8News a scan of the patient before treatment. The entire chest cavity is lit up.
"Those large bright blobs of activity are of his lymphoma,” explains Dr. McCarty.
"My cousin showed those scans to her doctor. The first thing he asked was, 'am I in hospice care?'" I was like, 'wow, I must have really been on the edge,'” Newby added.
Today it’s a very different picture. Those bright blobs are no longer there.
"100 days later after the CAR-T therapy, it's gone,” Dr. McCarty said.
Newby adds, "what really, really made me happy is all the nurses and doctors were so happy and said, 'Mr. Newby we saw your scans, and wow!'"
Aside from a temperature and few chills, Newby had zero complications.
“Very, very proud to see this absolute revolution in cancer care," Dr. McCarty said.
He believes the results offer new hope for curing other cancers.
"When you are dealing with cancer at the end of the day, hope is all you have,” says Newby.
The Massey Cancer Center will soon be offering CAR T-cell therapy to children and young adults with certain types of leukemia.
You can find more information about the new treatment and Massey Cancer Center here.
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