CAR T Shows Promise for Adults with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

By Pat Carragher - February 21, 2023

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is not a common cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, ALL accounts for less than half of 1% of all cancers in Americans. While rare, the blood cancer is known to be aggressive. It can attack the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system and other organs.

Children younger than 5 have the highest risk for disease, but roughly four of every 10 cases of ALL are in adults. Despite most cases occurring in children, 80% of deaths from ALL are in adults.

“For adult patients living with ALL, there is need for therapy options that provide long-term responses,” said Dr. Bijal Shah, a medical oncologist in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Malignant Hematology. “Half of patients will relapse, and survival is limited, even with current standard of care treatments.”

Shah is the principal investigator of ZUMA-3, a phase 2 multicenter clinical trial evaluating the use of KTE-X19, an autologous anti-CD19 CAR T-cell therapy product produced by Kite Pharma, in adults with relapsed and/or refractory ALL.

Dr. Bijal Shah, Medical Oncologist, Malignant Hematology Program

CAR T therapy uses a patient’s own T cells to fight cancer. The cells are removed from the patient through a process called apheresis and sent to a lab where they are genetically modified to add a receptor to the immune cells. That receptor acts as a GPS, seeking out a specific antigen found on the surface of the cancer cell. Once infused back into the patient, the CAR T cells can locate and destroy the cancer cells.

Shah presented three-year follow-up results from the trial at the 2023 Tandem Meetings, the combined annual meetings of the American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy and Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.

Researchers found that patients in the study had a median overall survival of 26 months. Additionally, patient responses remained durable, meaning that patients had positive results for much longer compared to typical treatment regimens. The therapy also showed a consistent safety profile observed since the two-year analysis.

“The continued durable response and significant improvement in survival indicated by these new data can potentially establish a new standard of care for adult patients living with this aggressive form of leukemia,” Shah said. “This is very promising considering the estimated long-term survival for this patient population is less than 5%, with most patients expected to survive no more than one year without a therapy option like CAR T.”

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