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T cell-based immunotherapy represents one of the most promising emerging treatments for advanced cancers. While cancer cells employ strategies to evade the body's immune system, immunotherapy seeks to overcome those deceits so that T cells recognize and become cytotoxic to cancer cells. One of the ways to do this is with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, a form of adoptive cell transfer in which a patient's T cells are extracted through apheresis, genetically engineered to develop receptors that bind to a specific antigen expressed on the surface of cancer cells, and infused back into the patient.

Adoptive cell transfer represents an area of basic and clinical research that the University of Maryland Marlene Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center has been exploring for several years through its Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy program. Through clinical trials, many UMGCCC patients, including a multiple myeloma survivor of more than 15 years, have benefited from gene-modified immune cells.

Now, CAR-T cell therapies are becoming mainstream treatment options. In August and October 2017, the FDA approved the first two gene therapies available in the United States, the latter of which is Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel), a CAR-T cell therapy that targets B-cell lymphoma. Because of its large blood and marrow transplant service and depth of experience in administering adoptive cell transfer immunotherapy trials, UMGCCC was one of the first centers – and the only one in the Baltimore-Washington-Virginia area – chosen by Kite Pharma to offer Yescarta. The FDA requires centers to be certified to administer Yescarta so that their staffs are trained to handle the serious side effects that often accompany the therapy. Though CAR-T cell therapy comes with risks, 51 percent of the patients who received Yescarta on a multi-center trial showed no evidence of the cancer despite failing two or more therapies previously.

CAR-T cell therapy is just one of the many forms of immunotherapy available to cancer patients at the University of Maryland. UMGCCC’s robust research program in Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy was established in 2006, and today the program boasts nearly 50 clinical and basic research investigators. The press release below contains more details about this new therapy available at UMGCCC. To inquire about this therapy, call 410-328-7904.

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