The breast cancer patient, just 49 years old, was near death, her tumor having survived multiple kinds of chemotherapy, grown out of her chest wall, and spread to so much of her liver that she had to have half of the organ removed. But four years after she received an experimental immune-based treatment, all of her tumors have disappeared, scientists reported on Monday in Nature Medicine, and she is healthy enough to have just completed a 1,500-mile kayak trip.
Ordinarily, reports of a single patient whose advanced, almost-always-fatal cancer has seemingly been cured by an experimental therapy are as scientifically meaningful as claims of miraculous cures at Lourdes. But the National Cancer Institute researcher behind the treatment isn’t new at this, which has made scientists reluctant to dismiss the report.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg’s lab was the first to report that T cells genetically engineered to recognize the CD19 molecule on tumor cells made a patient’s lymphoma disappear. That was in 2010. Seven years later, two such CAR-T therapies, Gilead’s Yescarta and Novartis’s Kymriah, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration.