UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute will be among the first sites in the world to offer a new type of immunotherapy to adults with aggressive lymphoma. The engineered gene therapy, CAR T-cell, has been described as one of the most powerful cancer treatments to emerge in recent years.

Photo credit: University of Rochester

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week approved Kite Pharma’s therapy called Yescarta. It works by boosting a patient’s immune system to seek and kill the cancer cells involved in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer for which there is no cure.

Wilmot is expected to be the only cancer center in Upstate New York and between Michigan and Boston, to provide Yescarta therapy. The institute was involved when Kite began evaluating Yescarta in clinical trials.

“This is potentially transformative therapy for a subset of patients with relapsed, aggressive lymphomas who have few other options,” said Wilmot Director Jonathan Friedberg. “Wilmot was the only center in New York State outside of New York City to participate in the clinical trials for this new treatment and has the experience to administer CAR T-cells.”

Ongoing training and qualification to administer the FDA-approved therapy is expected to be completed later this fall and the new treatment could be available at Wilmot in the coming weeks, Friedberg added.

CAR T-cell treatment, originally developed at the National Cancer Institute, involves extracting millions of a patient’s own T cells, a type of white blood cell that usually fights infection. The cells are then flown to Kite’s manufacturing center where scientists use bioengineering techniques to reprogram the immune cells to attack a protein called CD19 that sits on the surface of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cells. The CAR T-cells are later infused into the patient. Imaging tests show if the therapy killed the cancerous cells.