By Edward A. Copelan, MD

As a transplant specialist at Atrium Health’s Levine Cancer Institute (LCI), I’ve seen firsthand how the immune system can be harnessed to fight cancer. But I’m still amazed by how quickly new immunotherapies are evolving – and by their potential to cure cancer, with far fewer side effects than today’s standard treatments.

These immunotherapy advances took center stage at the recent American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference, along with breakthroughs that will save the lives of many patients with sickle cell disease, multiple myeloma and other diseases. Here are three findings that I expect to transform hematology care in the coming years.

Real-World Success for CAR T-Cell Therapies

A number of clinical trials – including the landmark ZUMA-1 study – showed that CAR T-cell therapy can drive cancers like non-Hodgkin lymphoma into remission. Several studies at ASH revealed that this success can be duplicated in the real world, where patients are often sicker and have more comorbidities than clinical trial participants, and that these responses are often sustained.

For example, a study by several cancer centers showed that real-world patients had response rates to Yescarta – an FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma – that were comparable to ZUMA-1 participants. Similar findings were made about Kymriah, the only other FDA-approved CAR T-cell product.

These studies validate what we’re seeing at LCI, where CAR T therapies have saved patients’ lives – and where we’re building on this success via clinical trials of the next generation of immunotherapies.

Bringing Sickle Cell Breakthroughs to Africa

The drug hydroxyurea has been a boon for sickle cell patients in developed countries. At ASH, a groundbreaking clinical trial showed it’s possible to effectively deploy the drug in Africa, which is home to the vast majority of sickle cell patients. African children in the study were compliant with therapy and less likely to need blood transfusions. They also experienced less pain and were less likely to contract malaria.

We’re ecstatic about this news at LCI, where Ify Osunkwo, MD, MPH’s game-changing research includes a National Institutes of Health-funded push to help adolescents manage sickle cell as they transition to adulthood. Dr. Osunkwo was also a key source in The New York Times’ coverage of the hydroxyurea study.

A New Standard of Care for Multiple Myeloma

At ASH, LCI’s own Saad Usmani, MD, presented updated findings from a trial that investigated whether adding daratumumab to the standard regimen of lenalidomide and dexamethasone could improve multiple myeloma outcomes. The latest results pegged median progression-free survival for the daratumumab regimen at 44.5 months, versus 17.5 months for patients taking only lenalidomide and dexamethasone.

These results validate the FDA’s decision to approve daratumumab regimens as front-line therapy for many patients. And they’re especially encouraging for older patients who might be too fragile to undergo stem cell transplantation.

Paving the Way to Cures

Look beneath the surface of these results and you’ll find dozens of studies and therapies, in all stages of development. We’re investigating many of these therapies at LCI, where we offer one of the Southeast’s most comprehensive clinical trials programs – and where we’re on a mission to turn many more cancers from deadly diseases into chronic – even curable – conditions.

Explore LCI’s current cancer clinical trials

To refer a patient, call 980-442-5363.

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