Myeloma CAR T-Cell Therapy: How Does It Work and What Are the Risks?
Myeloma CAR T-Cell Therapy: How Does It Work and What Are the Risks? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.
What should myeloma patients know about CAR T-cell therapy? Expert Dr. Jeffrey Matous explains the how CAR T-cell therapy works to treat myeloma, risks associated with this therapy, and reviews common side effects that patients may experience.
Dr. Jeffrey Matous is a myeloma specialist at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute and the assistant chair in myeloma research for Sarah Cannon Research Institute. Learn more about Dr. Matous.
Let’s dive into new and emerging treatment. CAR T-cell therapy has been approved for myeloma patients and it’s certainly a hot topic right now. Can you tell us about this treatment and who it might be right for?
Dr. Jeffrey Matous:
Absolutely, so these T-cell therapies in myeloma are really exciting, and basically, how they work is T cells are cells that normally, in our body, they’re part of our immune system. When they see something foreign, usually, it’s a foreign infection or some kind. T cells go into kill mode and take out the foreign invader, and they’re supposed to do this with cells that are thinking about turning into cancer, but for various reasons, cancer cells can escape the T cells, and then, kind of brainwash the new system to say, hey. It’s okay if we coexist with you. No big deal. We’ll just hang out together. Okay? And that’s not okay. And so, in CAR T-cell therapy, what we do is we take the patient’s T cells.
We remove them from the blood with a procedure called apheresis, which is a machine that many patients might be familiar with through their stem cell collections.
It’s the same machine. And we collect these T cells. Then, they go to a laboratory where they are genetically modified in the laboratory using very sophisticated techniques to become myeloma killers. And we tell – we educate the T cells to become myeloma killers. We grow them up in sufficient numbers, and then, we return them to the patient. We just, basically, put them back in the patient’s bloodstream in the vein and they go and they are really effective at killing myeloma cells. And that’s CAR T-cell therapy, so it’s an amazing immune therapy. It’s way more complicated than I laid out, of course, but that’s the general thought behind it.
What are the risks of this therapy?
Dr. Jeffrey Matous:
Absolutely, so we have a lot of patients who come and ask about CAR T-cell therapy and think that it’s the same thing as getting daratumumab in the clinic or carfilzomib in the clinic.
Get it and you’re on your way. Far from that, and so, CAR T-cell therapy has a lot of risks. The risks fall into a few different categories. The first risk is called CRS, which doesn’t stand for what you think it stands for. It stands for Cytokine Release Syndrome. This occurs when the T cells recognize the myeloma cell and kill it, and when they do this, a lot of substances get released in the body that can cause a lot of symptoms, like fever, or low blood pressure, or low oxygen, and this requires specialized management to shepherd people through this.
This almost always occurs in about the first week of the treatment after the patients receive the CAR-T cells. In addition, patients who receive CAR-T cells can have what’s called neurologic toxicity that falls into many different categories. It can be something as simple as a headache, or a transient or temporary difficulty, you know, saying words or being confused, or in the most severe situation, even a seizure.
This requires a lot of close monitoring for neuro toxicity. In addition, we know that patients that get CAR T-cell therapy are, for quite a while after they receive the CAR-T cells, an increased risk for infection. It’s very suppressing of the immune system, immunosuppressive. And lastly, a lot of our patients who go through CAR T-cell therapy have low blood counts for a long time and they have to be monitored for this, might need transfusions, or some different therapies. It’s a complicated therapy for sure.