T cells are fighter cells that are a normal part of our immune system. They normally roam throughout the body to seek out and attack abnormal cells. CAR T cell (or Adoptive T cell) therapy aims to improve the way natural T cells function. With this therapy, some of a patient's T cells are removed from their body, and are altered so they can fight cancer. It is called CAR T cell therapy because a lab-made protein, a CAR protein, is added into the patient’s own T cells. The CAR protein helps T cells find and target cancer cells to be killed. The new CAR T cells are injected back into the patient’s body to go to work. Some researchers have called this “a living drug” since the T cells can divide and give rise to more T cells in a self-limiting chain reaction.
Each CAR T cell infusion is individual, created from the patient’s own cells. This is designed as a one-time treatment. It can continue to be active in the body for a long time. There may be serious side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah™) as the first CAR T cell therapy. It is for people up to age 25 with relapsed or recurrent acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The second approved CAR T cell therapy is axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta™). It is used in people with large B-cell lymphomas whose cancer has progressed. Large B-cell lymphomas include large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, high-grade B-cell lymphoma, and transformed follicular lymphoma. So far, only a few hospitals in the US have been licensed to give this treatment.
Right now, CAR T therapy is a very complex and expensive cancer treatment. It is only available at a few dozen cancer centers. Ask if your insurance will cover the drug and hospital costs. Ask if you qualify to get this therapy as part of a clinical trial where the drug cost is covered. You may have to travel long distances to get this therapy. Ask if you can get assistance to cover travel, lodging, and food costs for you and a caregiver. Call 888-793-9355 or visit www.CancerSupportCommunity.org/Cost for more help on coping with cancer costs.
See our CAR T Immunotherapy booklet for more information.