UC San Diego Health Begins Treating Multiple Myeloma with CAR T-cell Therapy

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Following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval, UC San Diego Health is the first designated medical center in San Diego certified to offer a new immunotherapy treatment of multiple myeloma outside of a clinical trial.

The new immunotherapy is a B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) directed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, and UC San Diego Health is preparing to treat its first patient this month.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of blood plasma cells in which the body’s T-cells and B-cells become cancerous and multiply. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 35,000 Americans will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2021, and treatment options are limited.

“We believe the future of cancer care is in cellular therapy and this is a huge advancement for patients who have very limited treatment options left,” said Dimitrios Tzachanis, MD, PhD, hematologist and medical oncologist with Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health. “We are the first in San Diego and one of the first in the country to begin this form of treatment, and we are so proud to be able to make a difference in the lives of many patients facing this disease.”

BCMA CAR T-cell therapy uses the patient’s own T-cells, a type of white blood cell, to target and kill the myeloma cancer cells. The T-cells are extracted from a patient’s blood, genetically modified to introduce a vector that recognizes an antigen on the myeloma cells, grown in large numbers in a laboratory, and then infused back into the patient.

According to Tzachanis, the response rate is extremely promising.

“In the clinical trial, the overall response rate in patients was 73 percent, which is a very impressive result for patients with multiply relapsed myeloma,” said Tzachanis. “Additionally, 33 percent had a complete response, which means their cancer became undetectable.”

For patients who qualify, treatment involves one dose of the BCMA CAR T-cell therapy, which can extend the life of patients — some of whom would otherwise be admitted for hospice care — by months and potentially years.

Research for CAR T-cell therapy isn’t new for scientists and physicians at UC San Diego Health. In fact, a team of researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine led efforts in a research study that first looked at CAR T-cell therapy for lymphoma in 2016, which became the framework for treatment options being used today.

“We’re one of the few places in the country that is actively designing our own immunotherapies and CAR T-cells,” said Tzachanis. “I hope this gives people a sense of relief to know that they’re living in an area where the best and most advanced treatment options are available because of the incredible research being conducted at UC San Diego.”

Since 2018, UC San Diego Health has treated 43 patients with FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy for certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphomas, more than any other institution in San Diego. There are currently multiple clinical trials open at UC San Diego Health for other CAR T-cell therapies.

For more information about clinical trials at UC San Diego Health, visit clinicaltrials.ucsd.edu.



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