Notable News

Remember last month when we told you about the successful immunotherapy test trial known as CAR T therapy using the patient’s own immune cells to fight leukemia? There was a big push for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the therapy and they did! According to NPR.org the approval of the first cell-based gene therapy in the United States is being called a historic action. The drug called Kymriah was developed by Novartis. It has been approved to treat a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and young adults up to age 25 who have not responded to other treatments or who have experienced relapse. In the test trials, 83 percent of 63 patients were in remission within three months of undergoing the therapy. While very successful, the treatment does come with serious risks including a potentially life-threatening immune system response. Therefore, the FDA is requiring strong warnings and, for now, the treatment is only available at 32 specially trained hospitals and clinics. The treatment is also very expensive — $475,000 for the one-time treatment. Patients who do not respond within one month will not be charged. You can read more details here and if you missed the information we shared about CAR T therapy last month you can find that here.

This month fda.org announced another first in cancer treatment. A biosimilar drug, which is an almost identical copy of an original drug made by another company, was approved for the treatment of several types of cancer. Mvasi, a biosimilar to Avastin, is the first biosimilar approved for cancer treatment in the United States. This is significant because biosimilar drugs encourage competition among companies and help keep healthcare costs down for patients. Mvasi is approved to treat certain colorectal, lung, brain, kidney and cervical cancers in adult patients, but it could still be a couple years before it is available. More specifics about Mvasi, the cancers it is used to treat, and the side effects can be found here. Also, an interesting article on reuters.com about the impact biosimilars will have on healthcare costs as they become more widely available can be found here.

It’s hard to believe, but a virus known to cause brain defects could eventually be used to heal the brain. That’s what sciencedaily.com is reporting based on a study by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Diego. The study involves the Zika virus and glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer. The Zika virus targets immature and growing brain cells. That’s what makes it so dangerous to pregnant women and fetuses. However, in laboratory testing the researchers found that in an adult patient with glioblastoma, the Zika virus may bypass the normal brain cells to target the cancerous cells. It’s still too early to tell if the virus is a viable option for cancer treatment and there are other health concerns to consider, but this encouraging study opens the door for more promising research. Learn more about the Zika virus study here.

Finally this month, a patient story that is going viral. A woman in Minneapolis with stage 4 breast cancer mentioned to her mail carrier how overwhelmed she felt by her diagnosis and treatment. The mail carrier, also battling cancer, organized a very heart-felt expression of hope in the form of 101 heart-shaped balloons planted in the woman’s front yard. See video and learn more about these two empowered patients here and make sure you stay in touch with what’s going on at PEN here and look for more Notable News coming next month.

Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.