AdventHealth launches first-of-its-kind immunotherapy treatment, clinical trial for specific blood cancer patients

Blood Cancer Trial

Fla., ORLANDO, Fla., May 27, 2020 — AdventHealth physicians are the first in the world to launch a pioneering treatment targeting certain blood cancers for patients who have exhausted all other types of therapy.

Antigen-Specific T-Cell therapy, which is the subject of a clinical trial at AdventHealth Orlando, uses the immune cells to target cancer cells, and provides what is often the final treatment opportunity for people suffering from certain types of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).

The first patient to receive this therapy was treated in late April at AdventHealth Orlando and is recovering at home. He will be monitored to determine the efficacy of the treatment, which may take several months.

More than 19,000 people will be diagnosed with AML this year in the United States, and over 11,000 people will die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. The five-year survival rate for AML is 28.7 percent, while in comparison, the five-year survival rate for leukemia is 63.7 percent.

The number of people diagnosed with MDS in the country each year is uncertain, but is estimated at 10,000 or higher, the American Cancer Society reports.

“The best attribute of an immunotherapy treatment like this one is that it's a precise, customizable and personalized way to treat cancer for those who have no options left,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Varela, hematology oncologist at AdventHealth and principal investigator of the trial. “The relapse after traditional forms of treatment for these patients is around 40 percent. That relapse is the No. 1 cause of death for this patient population. Their options are very limited and there’s an urgent need for potentially lifesaving treatment options like this one.”

Antigen-Specific T-Cells are made by removing white blood cells from a donor (who had previously donated stem cells to the patient), generating immune cells that are tumor-specific, and then infusing the generated cells back into the patient’s bloodstream. Antigen-Specific T-Cells are able to attack specific cancer cells.

“Being the first in the world to launch this therapy, and to have the lead investigator on our team, shows our commitment to personalized medicine, which is the future of cancer care,” said Dr. Mark A. Socinski, executive medical director of the AdventHealth Cancer Institute. “We’re excited to bring this innovative therapy to our patients and allow them to access this potentially lifesaving treatment close to home.”

The Antigen-Specific T-Cell Therapy clinical trial and the Blood and Marrow Transplant program are made possible by the generous support of community donors, including the AdventHealth Foundation of Central Florida.